Reflections from this side of pastoring and church planting
Since planting Love & Justice Church, I have frequently had the blessing (and the curse) of interacting with other guys in my church who are praying through the possibility of planting a church. I have sat down with dozens of young guys like myself who have a desire for church planting but don’t know where to start or how to move forward.
Looking back at myself when we launched Love & Justice Church, I now know that I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into. I’m writing to spare men from some of the heartache and pain I have experienced along the way.
1. Be a good Christian
If you are wrestling through a ministry calling and feel pulled towards church planting, perhaps the best area to start examining is your own relationship with Jesus. Lousy Christians make lousy pastors. And lousy pastors make really lousy church planters.
Before you are called to be a church planter, you are called to be a Christian. Before you are called to “do stuff” for Jesus, you are called to regularly enjoy and drink deeply of what He has done for you at the cross. Work at becoming a good Christian before you attempt to be a good church planter.
2. Be a good church member
I loved my church. I was committed. I was serving 5 of the 6 weekend services that my (old) church was doing. I volunteered in the kids ministry, teaching kids about Jesus. I volunteered as a greeter, welcoming people in the door. I volunteered out in the parking lot, driving people up to the doors in a golf cart. I volunteered on the media crew, running sound and powerpoint slides. I volunteered in the youth group, leading a small group of teenagers. I met new people and brought all my friends. I started a small group that met throughout the week to study the Bible and worship. I loved the church and bought into the vision.
Sadly, most of the guys that I interact with that tell me they want to plant a church have never been as committed to the church as I was before I started pastoring. They think church planting means “preaching”. They love the thought of being at the helm where everyone can see, but they don’t like the thought of scrubbing the floors where nobody can see. The best church planters faithfully served their local church well before they started their own.
If you don’t love and serve the church that does exist, how can you love and serve the church that doesn’t exist?
3. Know your role
One of the biggest errors I made early on was assuming that preaching and being the “lead guy” in a church plant was basically the same thing. I loved to preach, and people seemed to enjoy my preaching; therefore (I thought), I can be the lead guy in a church plant. I was wrong.
Being the lead guy in a church plant is so much more than merely preaching. Sure, preaching on a Sunday morning is an important part of what I do, but it isn’t the biggest part. A church planter needs to be able to gather a core team, plan and work the vision, lead other leaders, make tough decisions, oversee every aspect of the church, and much much more. The best lead guys that I have observed have a strong preaching gift, a sensitive pastoral heart and high organizational skill.
Spend time praying and evaluating yourself to figure out if you are, in fact, called to be the “lead guy” in a church plant. If God has called you to pastoral ministry, you need to wrestle through how God has specifically wired you to function. It takes a unique gifting to be the go-to guy for everything.
If God has called you to pastoral ministry, you only have 3 options:
(1) Become an elder at an existing church
(2) Become the lead guy at an existing church
(3) Become the lead guy in a new church plant
4. Have a clear, compelling vision
When I started Love & Justice Church, I only knew what I was against. I didn’t know what I loved or what I was for. I just knew that I wasn’t going to be like “those churches”. We would be different. We would be unique. We would be “more biblical”. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Knowing who you don’t want to be isn’t a healthy way to start a church. It’s similar to an engaged guy who knows all of the wrong things to do as a husband, but hasn’t a clue how he should love his future wife. Know what you want to do, who you want to be and how you plan on getting there.
5. Determine a healthy timeline
When I prepared to launch Love & Justice, I felt like I knew what I was doing. We had 50-60 people showing up to a Bible study I was leading. Jesus was saving people and we were baptizing them in a swimming pool in the backyard. Further, people even started giving money and calling it “my church”. We were ready to launch. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t have a clue what church planting was all about. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. I lost 25 pounds in the first year due to stress (and I’m already a small guy). I wasn’t the only thing that started to shrink; so did my core group. We went from running an average of 50-60 people down to 20-30 people. In my second year, I buried a 2-month old who was murdered by her father. In my third year, I buried a stillborn child and a non-Christian who committed suicide. I saw tons of people walk away from Jesus, backstab my wife and me, and become angry with the church I was pastoring. Things started to fall to pieces.
The only thing that kept me going was God’s incredible grace. Despite my unwise decision to rush into church planting, God faithfully reminded me of my calling and sent older, wiser men into my life; had it not been for these men, I doubt if I would still be in ministry to this day.
6. Get assessed
Church planting is tough work. And much of the ministry frustrations and problems I am still dealing with stem from my bad decision to rush into it. I’ve never met a church planter that wished he would have moved faster. Slow down and get plenty of wisdom. Let others speak into your timeline. Even Jesus waited for a long time to start His public ministry.
One of the most difficult things about blind spots is that you can’t see them.
The problem is that we always think we are further down the field than we are. We tend to consider ourselves to be ready for the task of church planting, much like a young guy signing up for the military considers himself “ready” for war. If we fail to get assessed by trusted and vetted men who have “done it”, we will fail to see the blind spots that we possess. You must assess yourself, but you cannot stop there.
One of the best decisions I have ever made was to sit under a group of men and allow them to assess me on every area of my life. Find a healthy network or a group of trusted godly men who have done what you want to do and ask them to speak into: your life, your walk with Jesus, your marriage, your calling, your giftedness, your vision and timeline, etc. Don’t just ask them to speak into those things – listen to what they say! Humbly and wisely submit to their leadership and discernment. Let other men push against you, point out weaknesses and strengths, and help you wage the war that you are about to start fighting. This is absolutely vital to your own health, the health of your marriage and the health of your future church.
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” – Proverbs 15:22
“Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.” – Proverbs 20:18