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...
I had no idea how I longed for the approval of denominational leaders who had sent us out. I wanted to prove my worth to them and have their admiration. I did not realize then what I can look back and see now — I wanted to prove myself to my friends and peers. I had not chosen the “easy path” of taking an existing church, rather I was part of the special forces.
I also had nothing to prove to myself. This is the issue of the heart. It is subtle and deep. We Planters are a competitive breed. We can so easily make ourselves we have good intentions; godly intentions, when in reality we are working to validate our own worth.
My friend Gentry Mccolm, planted a church in Houston, TX. In his book, The Inner Life of a Church Planter (2011), he wrote: “Looking back over the journal I’ve kept through my years of church planting, I see reference after reference to idols that I’d set up in my heart. ‘September 19: I’ve seen how I keep idolizing a planted, thriving church. So, to be happy and have peace of mind I need a planted church with people coming. My sin! I’m substituting a church for God.’
‘January 15: Oh, I don’t want to fill myself with one more thing other than God! I don’t want to slake my thirst with core group members, with outward success, with things ‘hopping’ around here! Don’t let the prospect of success in my work fill me with more joy than the knowledge of your steadfast love.’”
I, too, was secretly wishing to plant a very large church. According to Leadership Network: “Each weekend approximately 56 million people worship in a Protestant church across the United States. Of those, 13 million (23%) worship in churches with an attendance of 1,000 and higher.
The common misperception is that there must be a vast number of very large churches. In reality, however, the number is rather small. Churches with a weekend worship attendance of 1,000 or more adults and children make up only about 2% of America’s 300,000 Protestant churches. Leadership Network’s study focuses on this segment of churches. Churches with 2,000 or more, known as mega-churches, comprise less than half a percent. The average size of a four-year old church plant is 100 people.
Sounds like we need a different score card for success in planting, doesn’t it? What is a win? Is it butts in seats? Really? That’s it? I know God has more for you than that. He may want to do more in you and your family than he plans to do in the new church.
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 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. 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 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.
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!