Jul 24, 2017


3 Obstacles to Empowering Students for Church Planting

Mike Filicicchia identifies three obstacles that keep many collegiate leaders from empowering and releasing students for church planting.

Recently I wrote about the incredible opportunity for generational transformation that lies before us if we will commit ourselves to raising and sending church planters from our campuses. But even if our hearts are fully on board with that vision, there remain very real obstacles to empowering, training, and releasing students to plant churches that we must first deal with. For one, there can be serious character obstacles in our lives. Fear of failure, a need to be in charge or in control, and insecurity that we might be surpassed in influence by someone more gifted can all prevent us from raising and sending students as church planters. These character-level dynamics are often at play behind more practical-sounding concerns or refrains of “That just wouldn’t work here.” The topic of movement-killing heart issues would take many more articles than this!

For now, I want to look beyond character obstacles into the realm of ministry paradigms. Many of us have hearts ready and willing to raise and send out students to plant churches, but find there are some mental and practical obstacles in our way to seeing this vision through. Many of us need a paradigm shift if we are going to begin planting churches from our campus ministries. I believe there are three key obstacles to empowering students for church planting that we must overcome before we can be fruitful in this work.

Obstacle #1: Our View of Church Prohibits It
Professionalism and Individualism are our worst enemies here. Many of us have inherited assumptions that a church has a staff, a multi-thousand-dollar budget, programs for all ages, and a dedicated space (owned or rented) for gatherings. Along with this, we assume church planting requires a singular “lead pastor” who is a full-time, salaried, seminary-educated man with a clear pastoral calling, gifts in preaching and leadership, and nearly a decade of prior ministry experience. That’s 9 very specific criteria that disqualifies most believers—and all of our college students—from joining God in his global church planting mission.

I encourage you to study the book of Acts (where churches met in homes, nobody was a lead pastor, Paul wasn’t full-time, Peter wasn’t seminary educated, and Priscilla wasn’t a man) for fresh perspective on how necessary these criteria were for the church planters in the early church. The Holy Spirit didn’t require these criteria then, and He doesn’t require them now. Qualifications for high-level ministry in Acts usually sounds like “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 6:5, 11:24) and church planting happens via teams of two or more. If we prioritize biblical standards above our traditions, we qualify our students for God’s missional purposes!

Obstacle #2: We Don’t Think They’re Ready
Even if we manage to get past our potential ecclesiological hurdles and admit that God could use college students and recent graduates to plant legitimate churches that glorify His name, it gets really real when we look around the room and wonder, “But could he use these ones?” I echo Neil Cole’s refrain that we must seriously raise the bar of personal discipleship and lower the bar of church excellence if we have any chance of believing our students are ready to plant churches.

Consider this: if your student leaders can make a disciple of Jesus who makes another disciple of Jesus and facilitate an environment of mutual love in a small group or Bible study, why can’t they plant a church? Are your reasons governed by Scripture or by tradition, by faith or by fear? At the University of Michigan, our students consistently hear from professors and administrators that the sky is the limit to their success if they will step out to lead, innovate, and take risks to change their world. What a nightmare it would be if our students live their lives confident in their mental abilities because of their education but feeling inadequate in their spiritual abilities because of their campus ministry! We are called to affirm their identity and capacities more than anyone in their world, because we’re the ones who understand that the same power that raised Christ from the grave lives in them! Don’t let your university outpace you in encouraging your students with the positive impact they can have on the world.

Obstacle #3: They Don’t Think They’re Ready
This has been by far the most challenging of the three obstacles for me. In particular, I find that most students think that because they can’t (yet) do all that I do, they aren’t ready to plant churches. I need to constantly remind them that my grace and my gift are not their grace and their gift, and what I can do now is not the same as what I could do when I started. I need a team to complement my gifts and abilities, and they will need a different kind of team to complement theirs.

But far more than they need reminders, they need experiences reinforced by affirmation. They need the experience of reaching out to a new student, telling them about Jesus, baptizing them, and discipling them to love God and love their neighbor. And as they’re doing it, they need to hear me and others say, “Look! You’re doing it! This is amazing; I’m so proud of you!” because the enemy is accusing them, condemning them, disqualifying them in their hearts and minds. He is intensely threatened by the growing fruitfulness in their ministry, and he’s bent on derailing it. If you can empower your students to baptize new believers and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded, and reinforce along the way that they’re fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission, they will begin to understand themselves as disciple-makers, as spiritual mothers and fathers. Once they see themselves this way, and they hold a biblical view of church (see Obstacle #1), they’re ready to believe they can plant a church. Then, when God gives them a burden to reach a specific people group, they will begin to believe that they must plant a church.

Once you’ve completed the hard work of navigating your way through this paradigm shift, overcoming your internal obstacles to empowering your students for church planting, you’ll be more than ready to take on the remaining external obstacles to training and releasing them to plant churches around the world!

about the author

Mike Filicicchia

Mike is the North Campus Region Director at New Life Church, Ann Arbor. He is passionate about multiplying house churches among undergraduates and developing effective training tools and structures for mobilizing students in ministry.