I have never planted a church so this is uncharted waters for me, but I've been reading some blogs addressing the use of bivocational ministers in planting churches. In the comments section for these blogs some have asked about what training a bivocational church planter would need. One person in particular was finishing up his MDiv and questioned whether that degree would be helpful as a church planter. He felt it would be a hindrance if he tried to find a job outside of ministry that would allow him to be bivocational. He wondered if it might have been better for him to have started a business or began working at a job and then pursued some basic theological training as a foundation for becoming a bivocational church planter. What he was describing was exactly what I did as a bivocational pastor, and it makes sense to me that is not a bad route for a bivocational church planter either.
Recognizing the growing need for bivocational ministers a few schools now offer dual-degree programs. I haven't checked lately, but it seems like a common one is an MDiv/MSW. My guess is that these types of programs will grow in the future as denominations need more and more bivocational ministers, but I'm not sure they will include the MDiv. As others and I have argued, the MDiv trains people to be research theologians, but I'm not sure that is what church planters need. Church planters might find other degrees would provide them a more practical education than the MDiv. I'm thinking of MAR, MTh, and other two year degrees that offer a good combination of theological and practical ministry skills training. Many of these can be taken on-line from accredited schools making them accessible to anyone regardless of their location or schedule.
Let's consider one possible scenario. A church decides to start a new church in a nearby community. Perhaps one of their leaders lives in that community and has some gifts that would allow him or her to be successful as a church planter. The person already has a job or owns a business so that part of the equation is already covered. A process is developed for starting the new church, and the church planter begins to work that process. The denomination comes alongside to provide assistance, resources, and perhaps some limited financial support. The church planter begins work on one of the two year degrees that were mentioned above. While the new church is growing, the church planter is also growing as a result of his or her educational experiences. A new church is born.
I know this scenario makes it sound much easier than it is. We all know that birth is always messy, and it won't go nearly as smoothly as I make it sound. But, at the same time, this is a scenario that is doable. It's much more organic that many of the ways we've tried to plant new churches in the past. It gets more people who may be called to plant new churches involved much quicker, and I believe it puts church planting where it needs to be: under the direction of the mother church rather than under the control of a denomination. It provides the education for the church planter that will enable him or her to be more successful in ministry, but it does that in a timetable that will better fit the planter's schedule. Personally, I believe the upside for this scenario far outweighs the downside.
This may be a time when schools that offer these two year theological degrees look at adding a church planting component to the degree. I earned an MAR with a concentration in leadership that I have found very useful to my ministry. Perhaps a similar degree with a concentration in church planting could be developed that would be even more specialized for the church planter. If anyone knows of an existing degree of this type I would be very interested in knowing about it.
We simply have to find ways to begin planting more churches and one of the things we will need is church planters. We also have to find better ways to train and develop these planters, and I believe this is one way to do that.