words matter, people are not scaffolding

Like all fields or industries, church planting has its own vernacular…words and phrases that communicate in a quick and vivid manner.

A couple of weeks ago over coffee with a friend he to referred to a time in the church planting process where a ‘bait and switch’ occurs.

Here’s what he was referring to…Often early in the church planting process the planter (future pastor/leader) spends a great deal of time with those on his or her planting team.

They have small groups together, they eat meals together. There is a common vision that draws this small band together. They willing sacrifice, time, finances, and effort to help get this new church off the ground.

All good stuff. But…once the church grows beyond that initial group of people and public worship services begin, those relationships begin to change.

Some within that original group move into leadership positions or other key roles in this new church. Others don’t.

For those who don’t, this new season in the life of the church plant is a different experience from what they had been a part of up to this point.

One of the major changes is that they no longer have the type of access to the leader’s life as they did before. That can be a difficult loss. The leader is now spending more time with other leaders of this new church and helping incorporate new people.

This can be a difficult transition for many who were part of that initial team. And as my friend said, for many it can feel like a ‘bait and switch.’

If that feeling does exist, based in reality or not, they do not end up staying with the church too long after this occurs.

What they thought they were getting into, no longer exists. And they often leave hurt as you’d imagine.

As we talked, I asked my friend if he knew that there is a word within church planting vernacular for those people. They are referred to as scaffolding. (Go ahead, Google the term: church planting scaffolding sometime and see what you get.)

Language matters…Our words matter

The words and phrases we use matter. Words communicate what we think.

I recognise that often when church leaders are using this term, they are sharing from their experience. Preparing others for a reality that they will likely deal with as well. (Because when you’re the leader and a person leaves the church…that hurts too.) And using an image that we can all easily understand.

The thing is, we can’t know everything about everyone. We’ve all had the experience of thinking someone has great potential, only to get six months down the road and discover serious character issues. That happens in all types of relationships we have, not just in new churches.

But is scaffolding a helpful way to refer to people? (that was rhetorical)

There is a move on to have people stop using phrases such as, ‘you throw like a girl.’ Because when we use words or phrases that devalue or demean people, it impacts how we view them. It just does.

When we use words that devalue people created in God’s image, can turn around build communities that love and value people?

Our first church plant

When Liz and I planted a church in Ithaca, our planting team was a Cornell University Christian fellowship I’d been leading for a couple of years. We went into the church planting process with relationship. We were all friends.

While only one person from that group is still part of the church in Ithaca, 15 years later, the rest of the team only left upon graduating from Cornell and moving away from Ithaca.

And despite living in various places around the world, we’re still connected with almost every person on that team. In fact the vast majority of them have been part or our support team as we’ve moved to Dublin to start a new church. I know we didn’t do things perfect and made mistakes, but this means a lot to us. And I hope they know how much they still mean to us.

A bit of clarification…

Having planted a church, I know that there are all types of people who come in the early days of your plant.

We had one family that came to our kick off service, and then invited our family for dinner. While we were there, they handed me a folder of articles and said this describes the type of church that they wanted to join. I made it clear that we did not have the same vision, they stopped attending.

I am not saying that everyone who comes to a church, or is part of that initial group is going to be part of it long-term.

My concern is for those who thought they were on the ground floor of something important, only to discover that they were viewed as serving a temporary function. And that function is no longer necessary.

You don’t need to be too familiar with scaffolding to know that it is not intended to become integrated into the new building. You only use scaffolding when you need it.

That is what the word scaffolding communicates, isn’t it?

Since that conversation with my friend, I’ve been wrestling with this. Here are a couple of ways I’m processing.

Thought 1) Task Oriented versus People Oriented
In any assessment I take that measures this kind of stuff, I always come up as ‘task-oriented,’ rather than ‘people-oriented’.

Being people oriented doesn’t mean you can’t get anything done, any more than being task oriented means you devalue people.

I hate this way of looking at people. I hate how it encourages us to look at people as a means to an end. ‘Grist for our mill’ as my church planting coach used to say.

While I am a task-oriented person, the church is about people. I’m trying to imaging Jesus referring to the 72 as scaffolding.

Thought 2) Introverts and Extroverts
In doing a bit of research for this post, I read an article by a pastor on a popular church leader web site. He was writing to pastors explaining how to view scaffolding in your church plant. What struck me is that he described himself as a very relational person.

I don’t know him, nor am I inclined to believe that isn’t true. But it got me wondering if this has anything to do with being an introvert or an extrovert.

We’re told extroverts generally have relationships with many people, but they tend to be not that deep. While introverts generally have fewer relationships, but those relationships tend to be much deeper.

Perhaps where we are on the spectrum impacts what ‘relational’ means to us?

The things you do…the language you use in that foundational time in the life of a church matters. It establishes culture. It tells people, “this is how we act towards one another.”

I’d love it if this was one of those words we could stop using.

Just something I’ve been thinking about the past couple of weeks.

(*the image above is of a house in Clontarf in the midst of some construction. not the most exciting image, but it served a purpose 😉

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