Sometimes the words that come from your gut, unrehearsed are the most helpful.
Last year our congregation stopped being nomads wandering in the wilderness (meeting in a middle school) and landed our first permanent facility. Part of that transition meant selling lots of equipment that once served a very useful purpose but now needed to be liquidated for the new building. We had two large portable church trailers that we listed on the internet and, sure enough, the church planters started calling.
We closed the deal for one of the trailers with a church planter out of Los Angeles. He rented a truck and drove the 20 hours to pick it up. After loading the trailer to his truck, I asked him if I could buy him a cup of coffee and hear his story before he started the long trek home.
In the midst of our conversation, this wide-eyed church planter asked me, “So, if you could give me one piece of wisdom to a church planter like myself who is just getting started, what would it be?” I wasn’t really prepared for the question but out of my gut I felt the words well up:
“It’s not as bad as you think,” I blurted out. He looked really confused so I continued, “I know that sounds really depressing but there will be many moments in which you will think that this whole church planting endeavor was the dumbest thing you have ever done. You will think that you are completely alone. People will betray you or let you down. You may even think of yourself as a failure – but it is not nearly as bad as you think.”
“But, also keep in mind – it’s not as good as you think. You are going to have some great successes and people are going to think you have life figured out and are the greatest preacher since Paul the Apostle. There may even be times that it seems that everything you touch turns to gold and ministry is easy. But that is a season that will end as well.”
“I guess what I’m saying,” I continued, “is that you have to find a place to anchor your heart and emotions outside of the results of your plant. Otherwise, the roller coaster ride of church planting can kill you.”
It could be that what kills new churches more than bad plans, lack of vision, or finances is the inner emotional world of the planter. Psychologists call it “differentiation” – the ability to separate oneself from one’s task. A prayer that I have learned to pray is a reminder that I am not my job. A reminder that I am more than a pastor or church planter. It is a prayer of recognition that God does not have employees; He has sons and daughters. May we learn to live in that grace.
Image attribution: william87 / Thinkstock