Lyle Schaller died this week at the age of 91. I wanted to write a short tribute to him for the impact that he had on my life and ministry.
I had the opportunity to spend a day with Dr. Schaller in in the summer of 1996. I had just joined the church planting team of the Home Mission Board (HMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Dr. Schaller was speaking at an event we hosted for many of our church planting leaders across the country. I was the new guy on staff, and was given the responsibility of getting him back to the airport.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, I arranged a lunch with him and a group of church planters. I asked him to critique our church planting approach on our way to lunch. Here is the essence of what he said:
“David, all you church planters are similar in that you are driven by calendar. You are going to plant your church on Easter or some big day regardless if you are ready or not. You need to be driven by milestones, not calendar.”
He continued during the rest of our drive and over lunch to talk about five milestones that we must achieve before we plant a church. They were very simple, yet profound. I know that you probably want the list. The best that I can recall they included: meeting place, worship leader, 30 to 40 spiritual investors (core group), clearly defined niche, and small group structure. Not a bad list!
The list wasn’t the key to what he said. Lists come and go. It was the way he approached the list. You need to be driven by milestones, not calendar. That was the first time I had heard of milestones. He was right - I was driven by calendar. The last church I had planted was launched on Palm Sunday thinking this would give us two big weeks. It did, yet we weren’t ready. We watched our attendance nosedive over the summer and even beyond. We hadn’t achieved our milestones.
This radically changed how we equipped church planters in the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) and beyond over the past 25 years. As part of the HMB, I was a member of a team that developed our Basic Training for Church Planters where we employed Dr. Schaller’s approach to milestoning. This approach was then taught to thousands and even tens of thousands of church planters.
I wonder if Dr. Schaller knew of the impact he had on my life and other church and church planting leaders. I can only hope to have a small percentage of the impact that Dr. Schaller had on the church planting world.
In 2010 I published Detox for the Overly Religious. This book was by far my favorite to write. As always my writing is an opportunity to work out my faith. I thought I would post a few of my favorite quotes and encourage you to read it for yourself. I'm convinced that we could all use some detoxing. My personal mission is to help others discover the simplicity of Jesus and His ways.
"Jesus' priority wasn't a curriculum. His priority was spending his life in intimate relationships with others. He chose those he wanted to be with. We know them as his disciples, but they were much more. They were his friends, and he chose to spend his life with them. He didn't take them through a study course, and intense Bible study, or a twenty-six week discipleship program. He simply lived with them. Jesus' life was his study course" (page 160).
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I picked a flower just the other day,
As I made my way pass the fence line.
It was different now than then.
The barbed-wire fence all rusted and fallen, blended with the winters leaves.
I stepped over what at one time I leaped.
I made my way into the big dark forest.
What seemed once to be a days journey into the unknown proved to be just a few steps from what was most familiar.
There they were all gathered in pods...the first signs of reprieve from a long hard winter.
They were ablaze with color in a place that seemed to had been previously muted from life.
As I paused they told a story.
I found them first when I was a little child.
Each spring I was drawn back to the mystery of a few blooming daffodils.
It's been decades now since I last made the pilgrimage.
Yet something drew me into the woods just the other day.
I took a moment to take them in while memories all danced in my head.
I bowed for a moment as I plucked them as before.
I placed them in a vase near the sink where my mother had washed her hands countless times before.
This time was different or was it?
From heaven she peeked and she smile the same as before.
What's in a daffodil?
You tell me...this I know a lot more than before!
David Putman is founder of PTG and a Lead Navigator for Auxano.