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After you have read The Pivotal Design, the question many pastors (potential church planters) ask is, “Where do I go from here?” Before you call your denominational leaders, please read the following article by Jerry Burr.

What Should I Do Next?

The Pivotal Design is powerful and convincing. Pastors everywhere read it. They recognize the inherent limitations of a parental denominational system, and they want their lives to count for something more. They want to be part of a team that is pulling toward a common goal. They want to see more people in the Kingdom. The principles of The Pivotal Design resonate, and they are inspired to act; or maybe they have recently been bucked from the system and now hope to start their own Mission Catalyst church.


The Pivotal Design addresses how these churches should look and delineates the elements necessary for success — similar to the design of an aircraft. Yet at times we have seen a high mortality rate among transitional pastors, the pilots. They are highly trained in maintenance, ground operations, and airfield taxiing. But they don’t know how to fly. Mission Catalyst is, in essence, hoping these pastors, whose heads until recently have been occupied with board meetings, sermon preparation, politics, and leisure time management to become entrepreneurial, organized visionaries. We hope they will go from trusting the hand of the conference treasurer to trusting the hand of God.


Not surprisingly, transition problems from a parental denominational system to the grandparental Mission Catalyst, hands-off system have not been infrequent (and have lead to the development of what we call Goldilocks Freedom). You can’t expect pastors from a system with a DNA problem not to have a DNA problem.


What follows are characteristics of pastors who have succeeded or failed, compiled from actual experiences. While much of this falls under the banner “self-evident, but worth noting”, I do need to point out that each pastor with his/her success story or blunder is intelligent, gifted, and well educated with at least an MDiv if not a PhD or DMin. Just as each change in flight training or Federal Aviation regulations is purchased at the cost of someone’s life, we can learn from those who have gone before us. We want success. I’ll define success in this case as “absence of ‘infant mortality’”, meaning a church has been established and is in or beyond the second year as a Mission Catalyst church of Phase 3 (Flight).



Role: Nearly unlimited role in new church. The pastor is the final word, acts unilaterally, and does not build consensus among his launch team.

Personal: Moral and ethical flexibility. Poor boundaries. Ignores established roles, agreements, and boundaries. Poor follow-through. Shows a need to dominate others. Patronizing. Knows better than everyone else. Prejudiced, racist, bigoted, and/or sexist. Lacks respect. Deflects personal responsibility. Has a need to be “worshipped”. Self- aggrandizing. Focused on himself rather than the Next Person. Poor work ethic.

Professionalism: Inability to prioritize. Poor follow-through. Poor work ethic. Lazy. Lacks respect. Deflects personal responsibility.

Relational: Demonstrates ability to draw & retain leaders. Rarely alienates people. Others see and affirm his healthy relationships with spouse, family, and friends.


Relational: Does not draw and retain leaders. Makes others uncomfortable. Inappropriately aggressive. Lacks awareness and respect for others. Alienates people easily. Weird relationship with spouse.

Financial: In debt or significant financial stress or distress. Living beyond means. Singular income source (pastoring). Financial commitments require full dual income. Unwilling to scale back lifestyle. Unwilling to find alternative income sources.

Experiential: Last experience in the real world is remote. No entrepreneurial experience.

Educational: Trusts own abilities. No real interest in learning from books, experts, literature, coaches, etc.

Emotional: Exhibits unstable and erratic behavior, especially when under pressure. No demonstrated ability to identify, face, and resolve inner problems.

Spiritual: Does not live by faith. Trusts self more than God. Lacks the fruit of the Spirit.

Theological: Loses grasp of previous belief system. Too willing to compromise, rationalize, and “throw everything up for grabs”. Believes himself theologically superior.


Spirituality: Some are not spiritually grounded. Others see themselves as theologically superior. Prefer theological discussion to religion in action (James 1:27). Lack a sense of urgency.




Common Goal: They can’t agree on one.

Composition: Critical elements of the Pivotal Design are missing.



Role: Ambiguous boundaries. Infighting. Members spend much of their time outside their “sweet spot”.

Disposition: Easily offended. Irritable. Territorial.






Financial: Under the gun from the beginning, poor planning if any.



Strategy: Decreased success when churches are launched in reaction to another situation, such as a church split or a pastor who “jumps ship” or is “let go”.

Survival Analysis

Risk factors, when combined, have a multiplier effect. Take motorcycle riding for example. Sample risk factors include: excessive speed, riding in rain, unfamiliar road, riding at night, and riding with a passenger. Hypothetically, let’s say a rider with zero risk factors has a 1/5000 chance of crashing in the next mile. Let’s say that each risk factor doubles the chance of a crash, and a rain storm moves odds of a crash to 1/2500. Riding in the rain with a passenger moves the odds to 1/1250, and so on. A rider with our five risk factors ends up with 1/156 chance of crashing in the next mile. You get the idea.


Launching a new church makes motorcycling seem like life in a cocoon. Survival odds might be more like 1/10 for a new church. We probably will never see the ideal pastor find the ideal team and situation, but the cumulative effect of risk factors present in the “Unsuccessful” side of the chart above adds dramatically to the odds against success. We have to be aware that even if all the stars align, the unknown will raise its ugly head. Despite the charts above, there is any number of new and creative ways for the train to go off the rails. As the Barenaked Ladies song says, “It’s not what you’re sure of; it’s what you don’t know.”


Anyone Can Fly an Airplane (with the Right Training)

Put any person in the cockpit of a plane, no matter how gifted and sincere, and they will crash and burn without the right training. However, most people with basic intelligence, common sense, and eye-hand coordination can become a pilot. This happens through systematic training: ground school (theory), learning the requisite skills from an instructor (practice), and safely negotiating the needed solo hours to become a pilot (experience). This is the only way people become licensed pilots. Flight training probably exists as it does today because too many untrained prospective pilots tried and failed. Becoming a pilot never involves taking the controls of an unfamiliar craft in a high emotion and high pressure situation.


A parental denominational system is one of training wheels and hand holding. Danger does not lurk on every side. In fact, if you keep free of indiscretion, embezzlement, and blatant heresy, you are pretty much guaranteed a job for life. It is safe, and a sense of complacency overtakes the psyche of many pastors. These pastors are trained to pastor churches, not launch and lead churches. Leaving this system can be emotional, painful, and disorienting. Combine these emotions with high pressure to “get something going” and high freedom, and you have a potentially lethal combination. 


So why has Mission Catalyst not required extensive training for these church planters who would join up? First of all, Mission Catalyst is not into control, and if these guys can pull it off, they are welcome to join Mission Catalyst. There also might be a perceived pressure and temptation, when a pastor is going to “jump ship”, to try to utilize whatever “momentum” that already might be generated. This temptation is commonly a result of the transitioning pastor overestimating the amount of actual support for his new church. Though ill-equipped, the throttle is to the firewall, emotions are running high, and the hands at the controls lack experience.


A Proposal

For the pastor who wants to join Mission Catalyst and start a prevailing church, we recommend something along the following lines. “I’ve read The Pivotal Design. I want my life to count for something. I can’t babysit the saints any longer. What do I do next?”


1. We would love to meet you. We recommend that you establish a confidential line of communication with one of our assessment coaches to talk through your current situation, motives, abilities, gifts, and calling. We will help you determine if church planting is right for you and if now is the right time. If these answers are Yes …


2. Accept that you can’t take your current church with you. As you’ve read The Pivotal Design, you recognize the power of teamwork and you recognize the limitations of a parental denominational system. However, your congregation probably has not made the same journey. Results have been poor among pastors who have tried to develop a Mission Catalyst church by transitioning immediately at their current location. When your denominational leaders hear of your plans, they will move quickly and without remorse, and your previous communication channels (and paycheck) no longer will be available to you.


Should you try to transition your church (which could easily be ethically questionable, depending if you see the congregation as the property of the denomination or the Body of Christ) the subsequent attitude of many of your followers will change when information starts to be broadcast that you have “left the fold”. Most onlookers will not understand, and your time and effort will be consumed with phone calls from the “concerned”. The purpose gap between those moving forward and those staying behind will affect the DNA of your new church. The airwaves will belong to the local conference, and information probably will not be slanted toward making you look sane. Misinformation and the resultant mistrust will distract from the goal of reaching the Next Person. Attempts to re-educate those staying behind will alter your focus and drain your energy. Even those who are “with you” likely will feel disoriented as they are pulled toward the voices calling from ahead and behind. This transition can be a high-stress, chaotic, and tumultuous time for everyone involved and generally does not bring out the best in people, and often reveals the underlying un-grace of the organization.


Instead of rushing headlong into a lose-lose situation, we recommend that you confidentially utilize one of our Mission Catalyst transition coaches. We are committed to helping you plan how to leave your church and the local conference (our brothers and sisters in Christ) in as healthy a way as possible, perhaps even with a renewed sense of mission as they move forward without you. We also want you and your family to be healthy and damage-free. While it might involve a little dust shaking, our goal is help you say goodbye in a healthy way and use your time and emotional effort toward starting something developed strategically.


3. You probably are going to have to move. Maybe even twice. Mission Catalyst recommends a transition through a six to twelve month apprenticeship at one of our successful churches. Mission Catalyst and the local church can work toward solutions to help you make the transition work, such as developing frugal housing assistance and a very small stipend to augment your well-planned and judicious living. It’s a great time to simplify your life (Google “100 thing challenge”) and reduce debt levels. You will have the opportunity to regroup and refocus, let the dust settle, reconnect with the purpose of your life, and deepen your connection with God. While apprenticing, you will have opportunities such as:


Theory: Immersion in the plethora of church planting resources at the Mission Catalyst home office. It is a time to switch gears and begin to wrap your head around what it takes to launch a church from scratch.


Practice and experience: You will be involved in most aspects of leadership in the local church. As a short-term, ancillary pastor, you are able to participate in the workings of a church plant and see how a staff-driven system works. It’s your opportunity to practice relational evangelism, connect with unchurched people, win souls to Christ, and baptize people in wetsuits.


Match with your new team: You may have a city in mind; you may even want to return to the area you left. You will have the opportunity to connect and determine a match with one of the teams (led by an Initial Point Person) that is forming, organizing, and fundraising in cities around the country. Plan with your prospective team. Pray together. Research together. Dream together. Organize, fundraise, identify resources, develop team strategies and timelines, plan your infrastructure, and establish your legal organizational entity.


Move to prospective city and start a prevailing church based on the Pivotal Design.


And with that…

These are big decisions. Here is a quote to consider as you lay awake tonight weighing courage and practicality. The first from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ad posted in London in 1914 (yes, in all caps):


Role: Self limited. Identifies his strengths/ gifts and works from his “sweet spot”. Able to comprehend (and subsequently appreciate) the power of the planting team, resulting in chemistry and trust.

Personal: Unshakable moral and ethical integrity. Demonstrates humility. Does not have to be “The Man”. Ability to see big picture. Ability to inspire and empower a team. Ability to trust the team. Strong work ethic.

Professionalism: Ability to prioritize. Demonstrates follow-through. Strong work ethic. Respectful of others. Takes responsibility appropriately.

Relational: Demonstrates ability to draw & retain leaders. Rarely alienates people. Others see and affirm his healthy relationships with spouse, family, and friends.

Financial: Able to structure for minimal financial pressure through period of reduced income. Willing to find secondary income source. Willing to scale back.

Experiential: Has recent real world experience. Recent experience in prioritizing. Entrepreneurial.

Educational: Student of Jesus, leadership, organization, church planting, and evangelism.

Emotional: Demonstrates emotional stability. Has faced and resolved issues. Isn’t running from his past.

Spiritual: Stable. Lives by faith. Knows what it means to trust God. Is converted and spiritually mature. Demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit.

Theological: Able to shift from an emphasis on theology to an emphasis on the Great Commission, the Next Person, grace, and Jesus. Maintains belief system. Does not cherry pick Biblical truths to carry forward.


Spirituality: Varied, but the team has a quorum of spiritually mature members who feel the weight of the Great Commission and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. The rest are at various stages of spiritual maturity, including spiritual tire kickers.

Common Goal: Everything is done to win the Next Person.

Role: The team identifies individual strengths and gifts, and each works from his “sweet spot” with comprehension and subsequent appreciation for the other members. Chemistry & trust result.

Disposition: Show each other grace and respect. Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.


Financial: Adequately-funded and planned launch.

Strategy: Launched strategically due to the confluence of the right pastor, right team, right situation, and right funding.

Composition: All the elements of the Pivotal Design are present.

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Case Analysis
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