Questions I'm Learning While Mentoring Postmodern Church Planters: A Modernist's Experience

by Dann Pantoja (c. February, 2000)

Mentoring postmodern church planters is like hiking the mountains of British Columbia--painful, scary, exhilarating, exciting, fulfilling! Each day, you're bound to say "Whew!", "Wow!", "What?", "Whatever!", "Whoah!", "Wohoo!" all at once.

Two years ago, I made a commitment to take a journey with a group of young, multicultural, Christian leaders. The group became WavesChurch. I'm also involved in mentoring the leaders of two newly planted, second-generation Asian churches. Lately, the core group of another international church development also invited me to be involved in their leadership enhancement process.

I was planning to answer a few questions about church planting in the context of postmodernism. In the process, I ended up learning more questions. Here they are:

*Can you be a mentor-leader without hanging on to your positional authority?
*Where do you base your leadership?
*Is it on the relationships of authority or on the authority of relationships?

The Waves Church Planting Team asked me to be their mentor. Jeff Wong was the Lead Pastor, Wayne Wong was the Director of Cell Multiplication, John Tazumi was the Director of Youth Connections and I was the Director of Leadership Development. I was their mentor but a team member as well.

After a few months, Jeff Wong had to reconfigure his ministry and tentmaking activities. He had to give up the position of the Lead Pastor so Wayne filled in. I still remained as mentor and team member.

Later, Wayne told me that he could not continue to serve as the Lead Pastor. I had to assume the responsibility until one of the pastors I was mentoring was ready.

All these changes happened in one year. And we're still evolving.

All my training in modern leadership and management told me that these changes would result in confusion and instability. We would lose our credibility.

Well, it's not true in our case.

Our core group of volunteers became more cohesive. Our Sunday morning core group became a real community. Our team enjoyed a level of trust from our people which I haven't experienced before. Our giving and attendance eventually increased.

Soon, I learned that in a postmodern context, the mentor's leadership is not based on the relationships of authority but on the authority of relationships.

Will this enhance community life? I was trained to search for excellence. My management professor taught me to practice kai zen -- the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. Responsible leadership means being prepared and being thorough. All bases ought to be covered. Excellence must be applied in mentorship.

I drafted a church planting ministry plan for my team. It was based on a thorough theological study of church planting and church growth. I did a careful demographic study of our city and included quotes of big church plants and church growth names as my authorities. The Waves Church Planting Ministry Plan was presented to them in a way which I thought was very outstanding and professional.

There was a problem though. I didn't see the excitement I was expecting. They didn't seem to be excited by the numerical growth projections I calculated using MSExcel. Something must be wrong with the plan!

One of them broke the silence: "Dann, how would this enhance our community life?"

"What?" I answered defensively. "Let's deal with that later. We have an urgent task to do based on Christ's Great Commission and I'm leading you to do our best for the Lord!"

"But Dann," he gently replied, "church planting is all about building a biblical community. This can only be done by being a genuine biblical community. Being determines doing; doing determines having. We cannot have a successful church plant and accomplish our church growth goals unless we become a genuine biblical community."

After six months of being a part of a biblical community, they eventually asked me about the Ministry Plan.

I guess I had my 'kai zen' about community life and leadership.

Is this real? Remember what Morpheus said in that hit movie The Matrix? "What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about your senses, what you feel, taste, smell, or see, then all you’re talking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

This new generation of church planters demand that I teach them real stuff. They know what's mere image; they know what's authentic.

I remember handing out a marketing plan during one of our strategic meetings. I borrowed a decent board room from one of my friends. I gave my team copies of a color-coded analysis of our city's demographics. We were organized, we were set for a smooth take off and based on my past experiences, such preparation would have produced results. I thought that excellent results would come from managing input-output mechanics.

So I thought.

In a very polite way, they ignored my hard work. They tried to hide their skepticism. Finally one of them told me, "Dann, you must have really worked on this technique and it must have really worked in your past ministries. But it's just a technique."

I was devastated. I found out that my expertise really didn't impress them. Later they expressed that they wanted to experience what the Word of God said about church planting -- the power of God to change lives, the power of God to transform our city, the power of God to bring the community leaders of Richmond to recognize Jesus' Lordship.

As a mentor, I learned that ultimate reality is really the interplay of the physical and the spiritual realms, over which Jesus Christ reigns supreme.

When they observed that I was learning to live the biblical, supernatural reality beyond mere doctrinal statements, they began appreciating my color-coded demographic analysis.

Will you do it yourself? The topic was Developing Effective Outreach Teams. I was speaking before a graduating class at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. After the session, Wayne Wong, a graduate student who was writing his thesis, approached me and started asking me questions: "Do you actually do all those things you talked about? Can I come with you? Can I be a part of your outreach team? Will you show me the ropes?"

Wayne accompanied me in my evangelistic activities at Richmond Centre Mall. We were praying for, and relating with, Mr. Kam Pong, a respected Tai Chi teacher among the Asian community in Richmond.

In February 1st, 2000, after almost two years, Mr. Kam Pong committed his life to Jesus Christ. He went to WavesChurch the following Sunday. He said: "Waves was used by God to lead me to commit my life to Jesus Christ." Wayne was there with Mr. Kam Pong for almost two years.

Wayne didn't finish my seminar. He just asked me to 'show him the ropes'. He is now the Chief Operating Officer of WavesChurch and he leads his own outreach team at the University of British Columbia campus.

Postmodern leaders respect mentors who just don't talk about outreach and evangelism but are doing it themselves.

I guess it's his turn to lead a seminar.

Can I trust you? Pete Penner is a talented youth leader. I believe being a pastor-teacher is one of his spiritual gifts. Unlike most of his fellow Mennonite friends, he did not study in a Bible college. He's an engineer. He reflects deeply on the Word of God--both in his private reflections and in his public exposition. The Lord used him in his College & Career Sunday school class as the size grew from 7 to 35 in a year. He really loved and cared for his flock.

The church felt that the group needed a full time pastor. They soon found a seminary graduate. The new pastor did what he thought was best; he did all the ministries himself. In the end, Pete ended up giving up his pastoral ministry because he was not a clergy. He became disillusioned for a year, hopping from one church to another.

The Lord gave him a new ministry to start a new congregation as a daughter church of an international church. He was later commissioned by the church as a "tentmaking church planter." Being a teachable servant, Pete asked the church if they would help him develop his leadership skills.

That's when the church board invited me to mentor Pete. He learned that I was one of those "clergy-type, former religious bureaucrat kind of guys." Winning his trust was an uphill battle. Later, he believed that I meant it when I kept saying: "Pastoral ministry is not a monopoly of clergy-types."

After a couple of months and many one-on-one fellowship times over Caramel Machiattos and Café Lattés, he finally said: "Can you show me how to plant a church?"

Why are you mentoring me? Jack is a multi-gifted person. He is an artist, musician, counsellor, excellent public speaker, and a doctoral student of theology. I was trying hard to get him to work for our denomination as a church planter. So I started sharing our organization's vision statement. I invested more time with him. He was about to graduate in a few months.

During one of our lunch fellowships, he looked straight into my eyes and gently asked: "Am I one of your projects?"

That question stunned me. "It's my job," I said. "Part of my responsibility is to recruit and train church planters for global ministries."

"Dann," Jack responded, "I want to mentor and be mentored unselfishly. I don't want to be recruited into a denominational mission program. I want to plunge into building biblical communities. I want to advance the Kingdom of God, not a denominational flag."

Jack and I are still having our monthly mentorship sessions. I'm no longer a denominational recruiter. He's now serving as a church planter -- with another mission agency.

Are you really open to new ideas? WavesChurch used to meet in a hotel. Nothing seemed to be happening. Our people didn't seem to be excited enough to invite their friends. I was thinking of renting a classroom in a nearby Baptist church.

Jeff disagreed.

Our church currently meets in a tea house. It was Jeff's idea.

Jeff Wong is a creative songwriter, artist, musician and church leader. We have been working together at WavesChurch for two years. He now serves as our Chief Information Officer. During one of our prayer sessions, Jeff shared with me his idea of having a worship service in a tea house.

I agreed. I have been praying for a place of worship where everybody would feel at home.

But Jeff continued: "We'll serve tea while we worship. We'll have food and drinks while we're listening to BiComm." (BiComm is Biblical Communication, our term for 'sermon').

Our Coaching Team (pastoral staff) invested a couple of weeks debating about the issue. We had to review our biblical theology of worship, our theology of food and drinks, etc. We were forced to delineate what is culturally appropriate and inappropriate; what is biblically accurate and inaccurate. The debate could have been exploited by Satan to divide us but God's mercy and grace led us to victory.

We decided to try Jeff's idea.

As a result of this idea, our people started inviting their unchurched friends. Our attendance doubled in two months. There are however people who still find it difficult to worship in a café setting but they continue to attend being very supportive of our leadership. We continue to listen to them and to include them in our kai zen process.

While writing this article, Jeff phoned me. He said that we were already using 80% of our seating capacity at the tea house. He suggested we should start looking for another tea house for our second congregation. (This is one of those 'church growth' things he used to dislike.) I said he should lead our team in that project.

He agreed.

Will you take risks with me? John Tazumi moved from New Jersey to Vancouver to join our team. He used to work as a missionary to GenX and Y with a well-established, US-based mission organization. He knew that Waves was just a newly organized postmodern church planting initiative. He knew that Waves did not have money or any asset at all. He knew that we would be operating from our laptops/palmtops and cellular phones because we had no money to rent office space.

While praying for this planned move, he met Edith. They became good friends. Transcending the limitations of time and space, they developed a relationship that led to an engagement.

John moved to Vancouver believing that this was God's leading. For him, joining "a group like Waves that was embryonic, inter-generational, and reaching the culture, was my dream." He took a risky step of faith.

His first three months with us at Waves was an uphill battle. The support from his American partners did not arrive as expected. It took sometime to process the transfer of money from US to Canada. During those times, John basically lived with six hundred Canadian dollars per month (some American tourists call our money 'Canadian Pesos'). Vancouver, BC, is one of the cities with the highest cost of living in North America.

In the midst of all these financial challenges and risks, the Lord showed his faithfulness to John. The Lord provided him a decent car which he purchased in cash. He and Edith had a wonderful, memorable wedding where God was really exalted and glorified, and those of us who attended were tremendously blessed.

The story of risk and 'stepping out' should have ended there.

But our church planting journey reached a stage when I was required to serve as full time pastor, while preparing the next Lead Pastor. Along with other personal reasons, I had to resign from my position as a missions director of a Canadian denomination. I had to raise my support. Who would support an unknown church planting initiative like Waves?

As of this writing, the Lord has been faithful in providing the needs of my family.

These questions prompted me to dig deeper into the Word of God about leadership and mentorship. Here are the mentorship characteristics I want to have:

Heart of a servant. This is the foundation of biblical leadership (Mt. 20:20-28). All mentor-leaders will rise and fall based on servanthood. Biblical servanthood is motivated by Christ's sacrificial love. The Lord Jesus Christ rejects position power as the basis of leadership in the Kingdom of God.

Soul of a teacher. God taught us about Himself through the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:1-14). His very existence served as the object lesson of servant leadership (Jn. 13:1-17). Jesus Christ is the Great Teacher.

Mind of a manager. Stewardship or management is crucial to our obedience to the Great Commission and to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ taught His disciples how to strategize their ministry (Mt. 10), how to manage their God-given resources (Mt. 25:14-20), and commissioned His followers that global evangelization is best accomplished through "making disciples," that is, through trained and committed followers.

Strength of a leader. The strength of Christ's leadership is His humility (Phil. 2:1-11). It is through life-giving servanthood and humility that we will experience effectiveness in leadership (Phil. 4:9).

Are these biblical leadership characteristics relevant to the questions of postmodern mentorship?

Of course. A friend sent me this email: "By transforming themselves into learning leaders, managerial mentors can serve as stabilizing forces in times of chaotic change, offering a fresh sense of shared purpose and direction for the organization and an unparalleled learning opportunity for the individual."

Let's climb the mountains of postmodern mentorship. It's painful. It's exhilarating! It's fulfilling! It's fun!



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Last Updated on August 11, 2003