I was once a church-planting candidate in the largest conservative Reformed denomination in America. During my seminary preparation I watched as prospective church-planters jumped through various hoops, including raising money. At the time, it was not unusual for a single church-planter on the West Coast to have to raise $500,000 but I have heard recently that the amount needed to execute a church-plant, before the first worship service is ever planned, is over $1 million in some metropolitan areas. Is this a good and desirable thing?
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, being interviewed by Radio Bremen in 1962, said the following:
Money corrupts. If I have to solicit great foundations for money for my research, then I have to propose something which is already obsolete for me. I know no researcher who in the first moment of a new inspiration could have found the sympathy and approval of the establishment. Whether it’s Galileo, Copernicus, Fichte, or I myself, it’s always the same: the new thought has to break through in battle against the vested interests, the power of the establishment, the conception of squandered money, against money itself—in short, against power of all sorts.
What Rosenstock-Huessy is saying is that new things, whether new products or new churches, are inherently risky and investment doesn’t like risk. But I submit, God does.
Look at the biblical data. When God does something new he calls men into extremely risky situations. He calls Abraham to a new place. He draws a downcast old Moses back to an Egypt that he had long ago forsaken. He sends twelve men out to the ends of the earth with the tunics on their backs. Imagine the apostles in Jerusalem with million dollar budgets! But God has done the same in this age. If large budgets were the prerequisite for planting churches where would Saint Patrick be? What of Saint Francis who did it in reverse? Would John Wesley and George Whitefield have begun their calling in the Welsh coalfields if they had been required to collect large sums of money to begin their ministries? And more recently what would have happened with Mars Hill Church if Mark Driscoll had been told at an assessment center he needed to raise substantial sums of money to plant his vision?
There is another angle to this as well and that is that risk builds character and makes men creative. Risk also attracts risk-taking men. In the same Radio Bremen interview, Rosenstock-Huessy says this about risk and funding:
In the first year of the Ford Foundation Paul Hoffman, who then served as its president, had the brilliance and courage to say, “I’ll support only projects that are already under way.” He wanted to support the bold spirits who wanted to and were able to carry their own ideas ahead in the face of danger, want, indebtedness.
Everyone in the Reformed sub-galaxy and beyond wants to be Tim Keller. But Tim Keller is already Tim Keller, a pastor from a small church in Virginia who went on to unanticipated stellar success as a church-planter in Manhattan. But what he was doing was something new and creative. Those well-funded men who come after him are not. Which brings me to my final point, those associated with the theological, liturgical and sacramental commitments that are popularized in places like Biblical Horizons are doing something new. They are reviving traditions that have been lost by the church and are cutting new ground when it comes to church-planting. This inherently attracts risk-takers who would rather be underfunded and execute the vision God gives them than be fully funded and compromise that vision. And in the Kingdom of God high risk yields high rewards.