Did you know that Jim Elliott was 29, Nate Saint was 33, and Pete Fleming was 27 years old when they went in mission and gave their very lives in mission for the Auca Indians? They accepted a call of God to go and they went with a missionary spirit.
I planted my first church a very long time ago while in my twenties. In some respects, I should not have been on the frontline, starting a new church from scratch, 2,000 miles away from our side of the world with a young wife and three little girls. But we were following what we believed was God’s calling. It is time again for the missionary spirit to reach this country’s mission field.
As I explore my confessions with you, I hope it will serve as a caution as you passionately pursue the call of God on your life.
Church Planter dudes are typically risk takers. They jump off when most people will not even get close to the edge. In many cases, there may be an addictive, competitive idol inside the mind and heart of the Planter.
Church Planters can deal with lots of ambiguity, but also disappointment is greater because of the huge ups and downs. This leads to a greater possibility of burnout (personal or family).
There may also be an aggressive desire for performance-based success and if your identity as a saint-sinner isn’t grasped then you will chase the illusive dream of self-fulfillment through church planting. It’s a hard road to go down because it is filled with pot holes, road blocks and broken pieces of wreckage on which you will hurt yourself or others.
In the first “Confessions” article, I wanted you to know that I wished I had believed in Kingdom Centered Prayer, and also that I had gone out to plant with nothing to prove. I had believed more in my own strength and ability and a lot less on the Holy Spirit to do his thing. Continue reading that article here.
Somehow the church plant was so consuming, I had little time for non-church stuff. I confess that I didn’t have many friends outside of our church plant or people I wasn’t trying to recruit to join it.
Even in my marriage, the church plant was sometimes all consuming. Rachel and I once heard a marriage conference speaker challenge pastors and spouses to go on a date and not talk about kids, church, or money. He said, “There is more to your life than those things. What are they? Talk about it.”
Another deception I wasn’t immune to was that my preaching was so good that people would flock to hear me preach. The people in the two little churches that I served as interim pastor said that my preaching was amazing. They had never heard someone so clear and so grace-centered. I was sure that when we moved to the city we planted others would be wowed too. They weren’t.
Now, I know what you are thinking: “That may have been true about you but not me.”
Someone said once, Confession is good for the soul, but lousy for the reputation. That is especially true if you are clinging to your own reputation. At some point, you discover that Jesus was a man of great reputation, not you.
At the risk of continuing to “ruin my reputation” by confessing my own failure, I trust you will see a man whose “weakness was turned to strength” because Jesus really is able to do more than we can ask or think.
You and I are day by day being made into what God had destined for us, in our original design and purpose, before the creation of the world. And that is happening as you plant the church God has called you to plant. My aim for you, as you read these series of confessions, is that you would be able to create a specific, dated plan for reducing your own dependence on yourself through Kingdom Prayer and Dependence of the Holy Spirit.
So I have another confession. I assumed that if people really got the Gospel then everything would just work itself out. I presumed on God that if I focused on the organism, the life of the church, that the organization would happen. In other words, the organism would run the organization. I didn't ever have a class in business or finance. Seminary didn’t teach organizational management. My professors taught me how to preach, teach, counsel and do “spiritual things.”
Perhaps like most Planters, you are not good at managing things or systems. You need people who can do the organizational details for you, but you are still responsible to know the details, at least for a season. If you aren’t good at budgeting, strategy, and organizational charts, you will have to learn. If you aren’t good at organizing your time by priority, you will have to learn. If you aren’t good at organizing teams, you will have to learn. I had to go to “business school” to learn what I needed. I had to read, to study, to ask business leaders how to run a living organization.
Money, managing things, and systems do not just take care of themselves. I believed that if I clearly taught the Gospel of God’s free grace, and if people really got that, they would just give generously.
But even Paul had to tell Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment… Teach them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
I regret not teaching a Gospel of rich generosity so the disciples of Jesus would have known a deeper degree of the generous blessing they have (and would have) in giving away their lives. The focus on gathering not scattering inhibited my growth as well as their growth.
If you don't have a church planting coach to ask these kinds of things about, ask yourself,
“What are two or three actions you can take to learn more about the organizational pieces of a church? (people to see, books to read, churches to study, classes to take, etc) and
When will you next collaborate with someone about this issue?”
Another vital area where I failed in my first plant: I was focused more on getting more followers rather than focusing on the production of more leaders.
I was working hard to try and raise the attendance in worship service by tinkering with the music, messages, children’s program, and facilities. But one of Jesus’ desires while on earth was to develop a group of leaders who could serve as catalysts for the redemption and renewal of all things, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It has been said, “Reproducing leaders is the most important task of any person with influence. When you raise up and empower leaders, you make a positive impact on yourself, your organization, your generation and the next generation.”
Increased attendance will not last without leaders in place to disciple and shepherd them. No matter how many people you have attending, your focus should be on developing leaders.
According the report “Church Plant Survivability”, “If the church planter provides leadership development training for new church members, the odds of survivability increase by over 250%.” (Stetzer, 2007 www.newchurches.com).
With that being true, it is crucial that you commit yourself as a leader to developing other leaders, not as an added program, but a regular part of you life.
Remember, you don’t have to plant a church alone. If you need a specific, dated plan for reducing your own dependence on yourself and learning to depend more on Christ Jesus, learn from the wisdom of the fighters who have gone to battle prior to your arrival. We suggest getting a C.R.O.S.S. Gospel Coach to help walk with you through the challenges you’ve never faced before.
If you want to have a Gospel-centered church, it’s important to have a Gospel-centered coach. Church Planter Coaching is an intentional gospel conversation about the planter’s Relational, Personal, Missional and Spiritual life.
Having a church planting Gospel Coach increases the likelihood you will live through this, stay married, and your kids won’t hate the church. It’s worth the money, the time, and the investment.
A Gospel Coach is one of the men who is watching your back. He’s been there and done hard things. He cares about you, your wife and your family and can speak truth, point out skills needed and connect you to the gospel when you forget it. And you will. And if your supervisor(s) are wise, they will listen to him as your advocate when things are hard.
A C.R.O.S.S. Coach will help encourage and equip you every step along the way. Click here to learn more about C.R.O.S.S. Coaching for Church Planters and Pastors today!
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).
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!