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).
I don't know how God will sharpen that reality in your life. Maybe you will grow into it as you plant. Maybe not. Maybe God will do more in you than in your plant. I hope so. Jesus Christ loves you and gave his life for you. The Spirit pours that love into our inner world-our hearts.
In relationship to the Spirit, I want you to remember, God is going to do His thing. He will NOT be hustled, cajoled, or bargained with. He will not allow you to fulfill your idolatry. He loves you too much. He chose you and your family to be there in your context for this season. He didn’t have to, but he did. Why? Because He’s crazy about Jesus, and He loves us more than we deserve. I wished I had believed that reality.
Again, with a clearer lens, I can see now that deep down, I was trying to hustle God or bargain with him to make the work go large. God’s Spirit blows where he wills, when He wills, and on whom He wills and there isn’t any bargaining with God to make that happen.
Now listen, if you are feeling a sense of condemnation or internal criticism, let me suggest it’s not the Spirit. He does convict us of sin, but He never seeks to crush us or condemn us. He seeks to correct us. And He desires for us to be apart of His work. That should be affirming, not damning. Put your Hope in God, you will never be put to shame.
1. List the activities, changes in people, or other means that you can celebrate God working in your new work?
2. If you have not launched, list some activities, changes, or means that you will celebrate when you see God working.
Remember, you don’t have to plant a church alone. Never before have there been more resources for training as there are now. 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 with focused discussions about the planter’s relational, personal, missional and spiritual life. Learn more about C.R.O.S.S. Coaching today!
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!