In a couple weeks our church celebrates six years of existence. It feels like yesterday when my family packed up and moved to urban Kansas City to start a new church. The last seven years we’ve experienced high’s of high’s and low’s of low’s planting a new ministry. But, through it all, God has been gracious and faithful at every turn.
So, to celebrate six years of church planting let me share a couple lessons learned:
#1: Christ first, family second, ministry third…in that order. Planting a new church from scratch is a daunting task. There are no people, little money, a vision of “what could be,” and lots of praying. It can feel like an all consuming endeavor.
Church planting is lonely, and physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. People will betray you, leave you, and hurt you. Relationships will shatter, money will run out, and things never seem to grow fast enough. If not careful, church planting can become a terrible god and mistress. Christ becomes second fiddle to our ministry dreams and aspirations.
So what to do?
First, keep God center of our affections. Second, love, serve, and be present to your family, and let ministry flow from here.
Christ is why we plant churches. He planted his love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). We plant because we are his children. We plant because we want people to know this love. At least that is how it’s supposed to be.
Family is our “first church.” We can’t give the family leftovers in the name of Christ. We are to be examples to the flock, and examples of how to lead a family, if we are going to lead a church (1 Peter 5:3, 1 Tim. 3:1-7).
Unfortunately, we confuse our roles as disciples and pastors/planters believing they are the same thing. What will sustain your ministry and life is knowing Christ, caring for your family, and of course, serving God’s people… in that order.
#2: Be patient.
Most church planters are entrepreneurially bent. That means they lack patience on all levels. We want growth, success, and movement yesterday. But, when dealing with the souls of people it requires patience and long-suffering. People are fragile and sanctification is slow. We should know this from personal experience (being a human, weak, fragile, and slow to grow in holiness), but it can be easily forgotten.
I’ve found that my impatience can lead to overlooking people and simply wanting to move to the next thing. The people we are called to serve become a roadblock instead of souls to nurture into maturity.
Be patient with your congregation. Be patient with your leaders. Be patient with your neighbors. Be patient with the Lord as he works sovereignly through his church. I think of Paul’s words in Romans about patience:
“24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” Romans 8:24-25.
If we have a hope of salvation and world transformation. We can be patient with the people God has entrusted us with.
#3: Church planting is not sexy.
Church planting has become the new cool thing among evangelicals. Every hipster Christian with tattoos and an ESV lambskin Bible wants to plant a church in a variety of cool cities in America.
But, don’t start a church because it looks cool and is considered the new sexy thing. Do it because you want to honor Christ. Do it to make disciples and see communities transformed. The sexiness will wear off in a couple years and you are left with little sexy and a lot of work.
Many young church planters assume that church planting will protect them from cranky church members and dusty traditions. Not the case. People will come into your church just as cranky, just as weird, and just as traditional.
Others get into church planting because of not wanting to serve in established churches or having to submit to denominational and/or network authorities. Established and new churches are not enemies. They need each other. Both can learn from one another. Don’t get into church planting because of authority and daddy issues. You need accountability on multiple levels.
Church planting is not sexy. It is hard. Can ruin a marriage in a blink of an eye. It is financially taxing. It is messy because people are messy. Careful of romanticizing the nature of this kind of ministry.
#4: Be yourself.
I think because of the advent of the Internet and the accessibility of social media and other media outlets we have a lot of “wannabe pastors” simply mimicking their favorite preachers.
If you try to be like your favorite pastor/church planter you will just look dumb. Be the best you. I think until you know yourself well, your weaknesses, sinful tendencies, leadership style, and personality, you will not do well in church planting. Be secure in Jesus.
People can spot a phony a mile away. Celebrate how God has made you, wired you, and gifted you. Be okay with you.
And, be careful of the comparison game. Too many young planters compare their success to the happening megachurch pastor of the day. They are not the standard. Be faithful and fruitful in what God called you to do.
#5: Preach and teach the Bible.
Church planters live under pressure to be marketers, social media savvy, and relevant (whatever that means in the moment). But, one non-negotiable, is to build your life and ministry on the Bible.
Preach the gospel, teach the Word, saturate your heart and mind in the Holy Book. The Bible will always be relevant in every generation because has not changed. You need the Bible for personal vitality and you need the Bible for the spiritual vitality and renewal of the church.
Talk about the Bible in staff meetings, discuss it in groups, apply it in homes, let the Word of God saturate every aspect of ministry.
#6: Take God seriously, but not yourself.
Church planting is hard. The honeymoon will be over, and ministry will feel like work, and joy hard to find. But, learn to laugh at yourself. Know that God saves sinners and weak people like us. He delights to use the weak and crooked sticks of the world to bring him glory.
Make sure to laugh. You are not the savior and answer for your city. Jesus is. Your life is a shadow, blink, and vapor. Play your part well. Make sure to laugh, didn’t I just say this…
Laughter is important. I remember a time early on in planting when I didn’t laugh. I was so caught up in the work of ministry that I forgot how to slow down and see the grace, awe, wonder, and humor of life. I needed to laugh. I needed to laugh because of how gracious Jesus is, and now lame I can be.
I need to laugh that God would call me into this racket called church planting. I don’t know much. But, this is what I am learning thus far…