The work of planting a new church will probably kill you.
On my first day in Greek Grammar class in Bible college, Dr. Jesse Thomas walked in and stood at the podium to offer a brief welcome, “Welcome to boot camp.” Serious students survived, some even thrived, but some fell by the wayside because of their unwillingness to do the hard work of memorization that studying an ancient language requires.
I’ve often thought back to that day as a church planter. Planting a church is hard. In fact, it will destroy your family, your ministry, and strip you of your vitality and enthusiasm, IF you can’t lean on your sense of calling from God.
In other words, if your heart is false, if your motives are selfish, or if your calling to the ministry of planting the gospel is uncertain, then your soul will suffer in the thick of the battle. When tough times come, when money runs short, when criticism abounds, when the launch team leaves you, when your spouse is feeling burned out, and when the emotion of the big launch subsides, you’re a sitting duck for the enemy.
Before you plant a church, clarify your calling. Angie and I have been about the work of planting Grace Hills Church for close to a year now (I can hardly believe it’s been that long), and we’ve already made plenty of mistakes along the way. We’ve done some things too early. We’ve done other things too late. We’ve missed some opportunities and struggle to prioritize correctly sometimes. But at the end of the day, there isn’t a single doubt in my mind that we are doing exactly what God wants us to do, in His world, for His kingdom, at this present moment in history. So we press on.
When I first moved back to northwest Arkansas to begin the work of church planting, there was a question I was faced with quite regularly, “why another church?” It’s a good, honest question. It isn’t always asked with the best motives, but the result of facing it is the introspection necessary for the deepening of our own confidence. In fact, it is in the face of such tough questions that our calling really comes to be tested.
If you’re considering planting a church, ask yourself the tough questions before others have the chance. Clarify your calling.
Why Am I Doing This?
Some may assume you’re interested in church planting because it’s easier to start from scratch with your own ideas than to fight the brick wall of established tradition. Others will quietly murmur about how much of a trend or fad “this church planting thing” is. A few may even go so far as to question your character, assuming you’re planting for your ego’s sake. How dare they?!
I would urge you to think of it another way – how dare you begin gathering people into close relationships with each other and asking them to invest their very lives for something eternal only to abandon them mid-stream because you ultimately found your own motives to be the wrong ones and never dealt with the tough questions? Why do you want to plant a church?
What Will This Cost Me?
When my daughter was born, life changed dramatically. Before we had kids, I set my own schedule, slept as much at night as I wanted to, and never had to wipe any unidentifiable substances off of any kids’ faces or… you get the picture. Having a child changed all of that. But she is soooo worth it!
Before planting Grace Hills, I was serving on staff at one of America’s largest churches. I was a specialist with a well-defined job description. I worked alongside a staff of hundreds, had encouragement, help, and break times by the water cooler, so to speak. It had its own challenges, but was for all intents and purposes, a dream spot for me. Moving to northwest Arkansas cost me that. I now watch from a distance as Saddleback’s staff continues to thrive and have all kinds of fun without me. Meanwhile my wife and I are generalists, multi-taskers who beg God to raise up more volunteers and send more financial support. And, while that’s tough to some degree, it’s soooo worth it!
Can I Keep My Life In Rhythm?
If you plant a church, your marriage will be tested. That’s a guarantee. If you want to know how church planting is going, just ask the planter’s spouse. I recently interviewed Shawn Lovejoy about his new book, The Measure of Our Success. Shawn testifies that a year into planting Mountain Lake Church, he asked his wife, Tricia, how she thought it was going. Her response cut deeply but initiated a powerful healing in their marriage. Shawn spent so much time, energy, and passion on church planting that his marriage was suffering. His rhythm had been lost.
God has worked powerfully in Shawn and Tricia’s life since then and God is using their story to teach others in ministry the value of keeping our priorities right, but their story highlights how easy it is to do some great things to the neglect of the best things. And what could be greater than planting a church? If your answer is “nothing,” don’t take another step.
Clarify your calling. This is good advice no matter what you do, but especially if you’re going to venture out as a spiritual entrepreneur into the world of planting a new church. I’m praying daily for God to call more leaders into this field, but wisdom demands that we search our hearts, seek God’s face, and move forward only if we can do so with absolute, steadfast confidence that God is both behind us and before us!
If God has called you to ministry, church planting or otherwise, I would love to hear your story in the comments below!
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