I have been coaching Church Planters full time since 2000. During the first years, I developed Gospel Coaching and the C.R.O.S.S. Coaching conversation so that I could remind each Planter of the importance of the Gospel in planting a Christ-centered, missionally engaged church.
I’ve found that there are about 10 key dimensions to every Church Planter, whether planting in a major urban USA city, a growing suburb, mercy neighborhood, or in a city in Cuba. Every Church Planter can and should be aware of these keys so that they can stay on top of the their game. Ok, I know this is not a game, but you get the idea.
This is your calling, but it is also your craft, and you’d better stay focused. No matter how simple you want church planting to be in your life, it is complex. But, no matter how complex it gets, there is a great degree of simplicity to it.
In the Church Leader Inventory (the assessing tool we operate and use in all our coaching and assessing), the First Dimension, among the ten church planter leadership dimensions, is Integrity.
The folks that did the research said Integrity was the most important because, I think, they knew character makes up for skill deficiency, but powerful skills will never make up for weak character.
First, we focus on inner heart qualities. Not because people will follow you and you will grow a big church. People do follow men with deep inner strength and they will listen to someone who has both feet firmly planted. But we should be leaders with strong inner heart character because that is what the Gospel is doing in and through us.
The reaction I received after my last article about Confessions of an Old Church Planter caused me to think of writing more on the subject. We need to encourage one another in Church Planting. If you can learn from some of us who planted churches in the past, you might increase your survivability and thriveability. I pray that be the case.
I confess…I am a workaholic. That is not a virtue; it’s a sinful life pattern of someone who struggles to find his rest in the Gospel. When I was a Church Planter, I was too focused on the end product (which, by the way never arrived) and never celebrated the little wins along the way. I can now look back through a lens much sharper and see reasons why that was so.
As I mentioned in the previous article, there are many reasons I failed to believe and practice Kingdom Centered prayer. I prayed a lot, but not for His Kingdom to come. Rather in hopes he would bless my thing, as good as it was. After all, he called me and sent me. He owed me.
Well, I also wish I had believed (in a greater degree) in the personal presence of the Holy Spirit. I think I worked much more in my flesh and own energy than in the Spirit. Of course, it led to seasons of great pride and deep fear.
Pride, when the new work was adding new people or a worship service really worked (sermon and music went extremely well and we had good attendance).
Fear, when people were unhappy or attendance was low. I remember, after we had grown to about 450 in attendance, over 100 people were gone one Sunday on vacations, etc. I told my staff, “Well, there was a day that if 100 people didn't show up we wouldn't have been able to have church.”
I was miserable and fearful and that harmed me, my wife, my kids, and friends.
To get a church started, a lot of work has to be done, especially if you are scratch planting. If you are "Splanting" (starting a new church that has split from another church or a Hive-Off church), there is a lot to be done as well, but it is harder being all alone in a new city.
You will have to work hard, so I am not suggesting that we sit back and rely on the Spirit to do it all. But, where is the Spirit working in the midst of your work? How do you want him or expect him to work?
If you are emotionally focused, you could end up dwelling on how you feel or how you simply sense the Spirit working. If you are less inclined to emotion and focus more on the rational, where might you miss the Spirit at work? Do you know yourself well enough to diagnose the personal presence of the Spirit working?
In looking back at my first new plant, I wasn’t able to do that. It was “hand to the plow” and hope for the best. I believed and taught that we are saved by grace alone, but I did not understand much about the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in me to apply the Gospel with power and love. I did not grasp that God the Father had “poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:5).
The Spirit wants to point us back to Jesus and make his death and resurrection a greater reality. “ You see, when we were powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…and He demonstrated his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
In the movie Forest Gump, Lt. Dan Taylor and Forest Gump have this exchange:
Lt. Taylor: “It’s pretty basic here. Stick with me and learn from the guys who have been in country for awhile and you will be alright. There is one item of GI gear that can make the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks…Always change your socks whenever we stop…and try not to do anything stupid like getting yourself killed!”
Gump: “I sure I hope I don’t let that man down.”
When I was a young Church Planter, one of the first things I wished I had believed in was Kingdom Centered Prayer. Now don’t get me wrong. I prayed. I prayed a lot. Desperate prayers. But my prayers were more along the lines of, “God please bless my thing going on here” rather than, “Lord, do Your thing and make Jesus famous however You want that to happen.”
I prayed for God to bring people to the church. I prayed for God to give me solid leaders so that the new plant would make it. I asked God for many things so the church would grow. I dreamed large dreams of a healthy, thriving congregation. It never occurred to me that my prayers were not Kingdom Centered: “Our Father, your name be made great. Your Kingdom come and Your will be done. You do Your thing through me, whatever your will is for me and Your Church.”
A Planter I coached once, said, “I was under the delusion that if I had a confirmed call to church plant, passed assessment and got dozens of people to sign up to pray and send financial support then surely God must have approved my vision for the new church. I was even humbly careful to say, ‘God didn’t speak to me in an audible voice but I’m sure this is a vision God gave me.’ I thought I was right on track and God would do what I expected.”
We all know Spiritual warfare is real. The enemy hates the church and does not want more churches to be planted. He will attack the planter, his family, and the core group in any way he believes will destroy the church plant. It is an issue that distinguishes a new church plant from the start of any secular endeavor.
The enemy will not play fair either.
He’ll go after your self-esteem. One seasoned Church Planter told me: “I confess, Satan talked to me after every sermon I ever preached! He said things like…’Man are you an incredible communicator! Your church is so lucky to have you! That was better than ____could preach.’ Or…’You should have emphasized this over what you said…you missed it man…no body was listening…you didn’t get one positive comment. Hey you didn’t get even one comment. You should have studied more. You blew it in the first service but it was ok in the second.’ Satan talks…and I too often listen. My insecurity haunts me!”
He’ll go after your family. In my years of working with planters, assessing, coaching, building networks, and consulting with new churches, more often than not, the wives or children of the Church Planter get sick with what some have started calling “church planter wives disease.” It’s a strange sickness that challenges their ability to help. They have conditions that linger and are not easily diagnosed. One Planter’s four-year old got cancer during the gathering phase.
Sending prayer letters or emails can be a white-wash for covering up your need for prayer
Often we are tempted to tell people what we think they want to hear. We think they ONLY want to hear about successes and how great everything is going. It gives them (and us) the false impression that we have everything together and they bet on the right horse with their support money. It really robs people of the opportunity to pray for miracles.
One Planter wrote me: “My first church plant did not go well. It closed in one year. Then we immediately started another one and it struggled for years. But in the middle of the failing, I got honest and started emailing more frequently requesting prayer I really needed. I prayed for God to convert people (we’d only had 1 conversion in 14 months of evangelistic work). I prayed for God to lead us to local people who could help lead and that we’d connect with people of other races. These were all things I originally was too proud to ask for. And God answered the prayers of His people. Not because I was good – in fact I was pretty helpless – but because it pleased Him to make His name famous.”
The very real and present danger in the life of a Church Planter that his heart becomes cold and his life with God loses its vitality, pliability, and centeredness on God’s grace, his holiness, and the Spirit’s work. Working out of one’s own ingenuity, natural ability, talents, and fleshly effort is the bent of every human heart.
Secondly, I wished I had believed that I had nothing to prove...
Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!