A lot of people don’t grasp there are two levels of wisdom. I call them practical wisdom and honour wisdom. Practical wisdom involves the nuts and bolts of how to do something, what to do and how to do it well.
Honour wisdom on the other hand answers the two most important questions in the universe: why are you doing what you are doing, and who are you doing it for (or to!).
Recently, a pastor came to visit me. He had a call from God to start a church, and because I run a growing network of growing churches, he came to me for, in his words, some wisdom on how to grow church.
I had never met him before, but I guessed that what he wanted was practical wisdom. And that’s good – we need practical wisdom. We need to know what forms of advertising work best, we need to know how to pace a service, how to appoint leaders, what to preach on, how to build a good sermon series, and so on. That is all really really important.
But it is the lower level of wisdom. You can get all the practical wisdom right and still be wrong. There is a higher level of wisdom – honour wisdom.
So I spent time talking to this guy: he was the assistant pastor of a church of about 300 people. He was the 2i/c in the church, and was very popular and respected. People enjoyed his ministry. He felt that he had learned all he could from the senior pastor and it was now time to launch out on his own.
That’s all very reasonable – it is practical and wise. I could have a really profitable session coaching him on how to advertise, how to find a building, how to craft a website, how to use Facebook, you name it – we could talk about it and it would have all been good stuff.
But it would have been lower level wisdom. I want to teach and impart that but it doesn’t work without the higher level wisdom: without honour wisdom. Honour wisdom is the ancient wisdom that is found in the holy Scriptures, the principles underlying the entire universe. This is the wisdom from above, first pure then peaceable.
I asked the man two simple questions that would instantly show if he had any honour-wisdom at all:
- Does your senior pastor know you are planning to launch out?
- Where are you going to launch out to in relation to the church you are in now?
The answers revealed the man had no honour-wisdom at all. His senior pastor had no idea what he was planning, it was all secret, all in the dark! His intention was for the pastor to find out probably about three weeks after he had left and started the new church. His second answer was that he was going to plant a new church in the same town, and in the same area as the church he was in now.
I told this man clearly: that’s not a church plant, that’s a church split. You are going to rip another man’s building apart to build yours! And not just any man, but your spiritual father – the man who gave you a platform to speak on, the man who helped you get in the ministry, the man who is teaching you and imparting to you. The man who saw goodness in you. He is your father in the faith and your father in the field.
Now the ancient wisdom says this:
Honour your father and mother, for this is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and you live long in the land – Ephesians 6.2-3
In other words, if you fail to honour your fathers it will not go well with you and you will not live long in the land. This is the wisdom of the Scripture, and it has been proven true over hundreds and thousands of years. The people who give you life, who believe in you, who raise you, who nurture you – if you act in a way that dishonours them, then it will not go well with you. It’s not that God is out to get you or blasts you, it’s simply that the universe is built on inviolable laws and this is one of them.
I explained this to the man and told him he had two tasks he had to perform – firstly, to sit down with his senior pastor face to face and explain his plans and where he felt he was going to end up. That discussion should be face to face, and if the man is to be a pastor he should have the character to have that conversation face to face! Otherwise he is a fool. To operate in the darkness is to operate without honour.
Secondly, he had to plant a church about fifty miles away from the church where he was. He had to make it impossible for people to follow him out, so he was not ripping the church apart.
I also said a third thing – when he starts the new church he should give financially to the church he was from. That giving is honour giving – it sets a weight and a level on the church he had come from, and honoured the pastor who trained him and loved him.
He never did approach the senior pastor, he left and planted a church about 10 miles away, I think there are 4 people there every week. He will not progress because he has failed to appreciate the deep wisdom in the universe, revealed to us in Scripture.
It’s generally not more practical wisdom you need when you leave a church, it’s honour-wisdom. You need to talk to people with respect and honour, you need to operate in the light, you need to not rip apart a building that has been your greenhouse, and you need to not rip apart a man who has been your father. Not for their sake, they will keep going no matter what, but for yours.
Whatever you are planning to do, leave with honour. I have never left a church without being up front and open, discussed it with the leadership and left with their blessing. Never. That is one of the key reasons Tree of Life Church is successful and overcomes many obstacles, because I have learned the deep truths of honour-wisdom.
Yes answer the questions how and what, that is important. But the more important questions are why and who. Never forget that.