*This post was originally written in May of 2010. It is reposted here unedited from the original.

In the heart of every leader is this inevitable dissatisfaction with the status quo which drives him to lead. That’s normal. Some have even called it a “divine discontent.” It is part of God’s call on a leader.

There is an ugly and sinful side to this, however, and it affects those of us who plant churches. This attitude is the desire to plant a church to correct all wrongs, excesses, and theological inconsistencies of our prior church experiences. Instead of setting out with a positive vision of a desired future, we end up starting an anti-movement and attracting a bunch of malcontented complainers who are great at diagnosing the problem but are much less motivated to trust God with anything positive and truly transforming.

I’ve been reading A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards and he addresses this problem.

He likens complaining church planters to Absalom. Absalom was King David’s son, and thought he could lead the nation better than his old man. So he sniped off a few people who were dissatisfied with the status quo.

Absalom was attractive and cool (2 Sam 14:25), and his dad was aging, tired, and mired in scandal. He had the hip new ideas and the youthful charisma to carry it out. He didn’t start an insurrection right away, however. He carefully planted seeds of distrust in the existing leadership. He listened quietly to those who had complaints and slowly gained their confidence.

He seemed so humble and unassuming, but in his heart he was basking in the admiring glow of others who shared his discontent.

Church plants can start this way, too. A young, hip leader with all the charisma and cool ideas listens to all the stories of people’s dissatisfaction with their churches. He listens patiently and coolly while hearing about other churches that don’t “get it,” and how other churches have “wounded” them. He slowly builds their trust with his disarmingly mild demeanor.

It all seems so positive and fresh. But it is an insurrection in the making.

Edwards offers this observation:

A man who will lead a rebellion has already proven, no matter how grandiose his words or angelic his ways, that he hs a critical nature, an unprincipled character, and hidden motives in his heart. Frankly, he is a thief. He creates dissatisfaction and tension within the realm, and then either seizes power or siphons off followers. The followers he gets, he uses to found his own dominion… God never honors division in His realm.

Soon enough, however, this hip young man becomes the tired, aged pastor whose ideas don’t seem so fresh anymore. He is not on the cutting edge now. He might have been crafty and talented but there was little depth of character in his heart. The demands of ministry dull his creativity.

But lurking in some small group is another young leader, drinking coffee and listening to others complain about how this once hip church has lost its edge. Now he seems to have all the fresh ideas. When a church is built on complaining about previous churches, its only a matter of time until those complaints are directed towards the new church.

Church planting is kinda cool these days. I wonder how many church splits try to dress up their fissure as a “church plant?” People get angry and divide churches over secondary matters and then give it a positive spin by calling it a “new church plant.”

This is not Kingdom Growth, this is insurrection.


I find it curious that men who feel qualified to split God’s kingdom do not feel capable of going somewhere else, to another land, to raise up a completely new kingdom. No, they must steal from another leader… They seem always to need at least a few pre-packaged followers… Beginning empty-handed and alone frightens the best of men. It also speaks volumes of just how sure they are that God is with them.

People starting new churches (or new ministries of any sort, for that matter) should have a positive vision for what they want God to accomplish.

If we start with a negative vision of wanting to correct the errors of previous church experiences, we only end up being that negative experience for the next church planter.

5 thoughts on “Starting a New Church Through Criticism and Complaining

  1. David Dorr

    Good stuff! I have heard alot about this book — looking fwd to reading it

    1. Michael Clary

      It can be read in a couple of hours. Written on probably a 1st grade level. The insights start paying off towards the middle/end.

  2. @mdcpastorkurt

    Good word Michael. It’s far easier to demolish a building and complain about all the things wrong with it as it lies in ashes than to pick up a hammer and start building something new.

  3. macorrea

    This is very powerful insight and a lesson we all need to heed. Thanks for being honest in your reflections. It’s pretty scary how easy we can lose focus of God’s desire and become driven by our own!
    On another note, I need to contact you regarding permission to use your Maslow chart from your blog in 2008 on the Apostle Paul and Abraham Maslow’s on Needs and Wants. You can reach out to me at the above email address.

  4. Jay

    Great post. Fostering discontent is short sighted and emboldens a critical spirit in a church. Who wants to be a part of that? But a church with people who encourage and bring life is contagious.

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