THE THREE BIGGEST HIGHS OF CHURCH PLANTING FOLLOWED BY THE THREE BIGGEST LOWS!
Most people have the idea that when you start a church it’s either all up or all down – that simply isn’t how it works. You should always be able to draw a line through the ups and downs and track up – even if just a little – but in the middle- there are incredible highs and lows that come along. If you don’t understand those and prepare for them, you can really make some bad decisions based on how exceptionally “good” or “bad” things are.
The biggest high for a church planter is right after God has called you to start a church – telling your first “non-family” friend what God has called you to do. The sky is the limit. Nothing has been done – it’s a dream, it’s a potential – it’s hard to knock a dream and potential. You keep sharing . . . . until . . . . the biggest low comes, the first person you respect who tells you that you shouldn’t start a church because of gifting or opinion. We’ve all been there – my Dad who loves God, actually discouraged me from starting NorthWood, I’d been talking to several really large churches about being a senior pastor and why should I start a church when I could go to a ready made church of thousands? You have to recognize God’s call enough, and it needs to be clear enough – that regardless of what someone says – you listen, but you still move forward. Now you’re getting closer to being ready to start – not because others agree with you, but because they don’t and yet you know God’s call. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to assessments, etc., – it means God calls people to start massive churches globally – and their primary criteria for doing it was and is that God called them. There wasn’t any assessment process!
Your second highest day is when you go public for the first time in a worship service! Hopefully you’ve already engaged your city; hopefully you’ve started cells in the city – now you’re ready for your first corporate gathering. You do a mass mailer, you invite ever stray dog you can – and you have a crowd and it’s a lot bigger than you expect! You’re the next Mark Driscoll or Darin Patrick – everybody is singing your praises! Then comes next Sunday – . . . . You have only half the people come back . . . and you worry . . . will another half leave this week? My biggest challenge to planters is helping them not get too excited the first week – and too depressed the second week!
The third highest day in the plant is your first baptismal service! This is why you started that church – to see people follow Jesus and now you have hard core proof – baptisms! You’re on your way now. A month later, you have your first staff conflict – it is probably with your best friend because they were the only person you could talk into going with you to plant your church! It may be a moral problem, a leadership issue, it may be a competency issue – but you have to deal with it – and you fear. . . . What will people think? Whose side will they take? How do I deal with this fairly and biblically . . . . It’s at this point many a pastor honestly leaves the ministry – they ignore the problem, it grows, and it ultimately kills the church.
So how do you avoid this?? Here are some lessons Rick Warren taught me early on as a young church planter that have helped me survive the ups and downs. . . . I don’t know they’re in a lecture, but he taught me all of these . . . .
1. Be in it for the long haul. If you are in it for the long haul, you make decisions based on the long haul, not the short haul. The decisions will be harder, but better and you will survive and so will the church.
2. Have faith. Everything you need is available and in the right amount at the right time. Don’t define your church by the season you find it in – know a church has different seasons.
3. Stay positive and don’t envy. If you get negative, it doesn’t affect just you, but others as well. In addition, if you’re upset about where you are and you begin to envy others, you won’t see that unique way that God has made you.
4. Know what your purpose is and stick to it. This is HUGE. Several churches started the same time we started NorthWood, only one is still going – each got side tracked on some new way of doing church or conference. Though I’m grateful for Rick Warren, my goal was to never be Saddleback Jr., but to learn from Saddleback. I tell our planters all the time, “If you leave here and plant a church just like Northwood – you’ve failed it big time – what is God calling you uniquely to do?”
5. Keep things simple. Don’t try to do a lot of stuff, just focus on engaging your city and cells. Just because some other church has a lot of programs and ministries doesn’t mean you should have them – do a few things and do them very well.
6. There’s one thing Rick never taught me, but a man named Leonard Ravenhill taught me growing up – he went to my Dad’s church – pray, pray, and then pray some more. There is NO substitute for being on your face before God. Praying may not grow your church, and it may – but I promise you this, it will grow you in your walk with God. It’ll make you into a person you would not be otherwise. To this day, even coming off knee surgery – my favorite time of the day is early in the morning in God’s word and on my face before him. I’d be scared not to pray. Rock on lil’ bro’s – we get up and we all get down – and we all have the same Father!
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.