Sustainability Considered

In CPM we stress the following three approaches: Educate, through teaching, to increase knowledge. Train, through coaching, to increase skill sets. Equip, through mentoring, to increase capacity. We know that one of the problems with traditional Western Christianity is that it is almost exclusively focused on the first of these. Teaching is important, but inadequate by itself.

Lately some of us have noticed that those of us who train others in Church Planting Movements often have this same weakness when it comes to Access Ministries. We teach the need to do access ministires. We share the CPM counter-intuitive that says, “Small for-profit projects often yield much higher long-term access and goodwill than free services.” But how many skill sets are we training church planters in the area of access ministries? How many are we mentoring to greater capacity?

Church Planting Movements often grow rapidly for a while, and then begin to slow some because our fund raising capacities fail to keep up with the need to financially support the number of CPM trainers necessary to keep the work moving forward. The greater the numbers the more “just in the nick of time training” is demanded. The broader the area is that is being impacted by churches being planted, the greater the needs for coaching and mentoring. Thankfully, these very needs push us to become more creative and alert to new ways to accomplish what God is calling us to do.

Biblically we often are drawn back to the “tentmaking” material. Paul’s most fruitful work came when he was in the city of Ephesus for roughly three years. Even his enemies acknowledged that the work of Paul’s team was incredibly productive. They felt like if they did not do something quickly they would no longer have employment because their silver images of Artemis were being purchased by fewer and fewer people. This recession was being produced by the fact that more and more people were following Jesus and rejecting their polytheistic past (Acts 19). Reflecting on his time in Ephesus, Paul notes, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:33-35).

The apostle Paul’s practice in the matter of support is an intriguing study. For “right/wrong” people (where everything has to fit into one of these two categories) he can be frustrating. There are places where Paul was adamant about the right of kingdom workers to receive support from those who were being blessed by their ministry. But then there are those places where he chose to forgo such support and appears to expect the same from others. I fear we try to make an “either/or” out of something Paul deals with as a “both/and.”

I can almost imagine a modern query, “Paul, are you for self-support or full-time support from those who were coming to know Jesus?” Paul’s answer woud be, “Yes.” “But Paul, that was an either/or question,” would be the reply. “Yes, I know. Why do you choose to make an either/or out of a both and?”

Paul’s choice in this matter appears to be situational. He strategically decides to work with his hands to support himself (and even his team) when that will do the most good for the spread of the gospel. At other times he lives off the financial support other churches forward to him. But he consistently did not accept financial support from the people where he was currently working. We need to be open to using these two approaches depending upon which is best in a particular situation.

To recognize which strategy will be most fruitful we must know the culture where we are working well. What are the attitudes of the people we are trying to reach about money? How do they view someone being supported while spreading the gospel? Do they have a history of religious charlatans? How will our choices now affect the spread of the gospel later? Is our course of action infinitely reproducible? Is our course of action sustainable? These are some of the questions we must learn to ask and answer.


  1. Excellent post John! We tell our brightest young people that they have to choose between full-time ministry and business. For the ones who choose business, our system relegates them to “second-class” status as Christians.

    We need to train and send out teams of hybrid business/church planters. This is a sustainable model that will take some work, but leaves us less dependent on trying to pry money out of existing church budgets.

    If you haven’t read Muhammad Yunus, who helped jumpstart microlending, pick up his latest book about “social business” and imagine the possibilities.


    1. Ryan, thanks for the comment. We fail to see that business is a wonderful place to demonstrate kingdom realities. It amazes me that many acknowledge that followers of Jesus influenced America with a strong work ethic and many established successful businesses, hospitals and universities and we fail to see the need for faith lived out in these ways in other countries.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I will check it out when I need to replenish my reading stack.


  2. Great thoughts John. I think that you are dealing with an issue that is absolutely critical and I am really looking forward to seeing where this discussion goes. We are facing the importance of this in Honduras now.


    1. Thanks, David. I will be doing more on this topic since it is so important to the future of reaching the not-yet-reached and equipping them for the work of taking the gospel to all God is calling them to reach.


  3. Thanks for this John. I think we need to keep a both/and approach to this. We have situations where paying church planters would almost instantly stop the multiplication. Those who are not being paid would stop working and expect payment. We have other situations where we are seriously hindered by strategic trainers not being available to mentor because they have to work 9 hours a day. It can be close to impossible to juggle a family, a full-time job, catalytic planting/ training and travel. I think we need to ask the question, “What’s best for the Harvest?” This is a question that will have different answers in different situations. But ground-level church planters should almost always be unpaid.


    1. Thanks for the comments, David. It was great to hang-out with you some in San Jose. As you can tell I have not been on here much lately. I have another article in the works, but keep getting distracted. How did your sessions with the KC folks go? Keep up the good work in South Africa, brother!


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