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.
David Putman is founder of PTG and a Lead Navigator for Auxano.