Given the title, you probably expect this post to scold the young, brash church planter, telling them it's time to grow up. This post is nothing like that. (As a side note, I don’t find this stereotype of church planters to be accurate in my experience, but that’s another topic.) This post is about something entirely different—it’s less “grow up” and more “slow down.”
In our church plant, we are constantly reminding ourselves to “act our age.” We are an infant church, about one year into our existence. We are just entering the toddler season. Toddlers trying to act like adults look pretty silly. Toddlers have different needs than adults, and we recognize that young churches have different needs than established churches. So, we try to enjoy the stage we are in, trusting that the developmental progress of our church body is what it needs to be in this life-stage.
The Temptation of the Fast-Forward Button
One of the temptations church planters face is pretending the church is further along than it is. We want to act like the big church down the street. We want our programming to match that of the churches we admire around the country. We want our production to be as slick as what we see on Instagram. So, we put pressure ourselves and our people to grow up fast.
Most planters come out of existing churches where they worked in a ministry role, or from a church they attended while training for ministry. They get used to seeing things done in a certain way. These churches always have a longer history, bigger budget, and more resources than a church plant. When you plant a church, you will lack each of these. You will not have systems that have been developed over years. You will not have generosity that has been cultivated through discipleship. You will not have staff down the hall to help. For that matter, you won’t even have a hallway.
You will have a call, a vision, a desire to see God create a new outpost for the gospel in your city. You will have the freedom to create something new and to imagine a future of the biblical ideal for a church. You will have time and energy to invest in this mission, but you will soon learn that these are also limited.
Here are a four ways you can act your age as a church:
1. Keep a sustainable pace.
If you have unrealistic expectations for what you can accomplish (or how quickly it can be done), you inadvertently push yourself, your leadership team, and your volunteers to attempt too much. You will be tempted to plan too many events, to launch too many ministries, to maintain megachurch quality visuals and stage design and bulletins, and more. You will likely frustrate and maybe even alienate people around you. As a planter, the road to burnout is easy to find. You don’t want to gain a church but lose your soul. So, you will have to make hard decisions like focusing on Easter Sunday and foregoing the Good Friday service you wanted to do. Try a monthly handout rather than make weekly changes. Have a picnic and get to know your people instead of hosting another teaching event. Take your days off. Battle for your sanity.
2. Focus on church health.
We are called to go and make disciples, not go and gather a crowd. Gathering a crowd can happen quickly, but making disciples takes time. You will need to sort through messy lives and give people a path to growth. If you are going to see a healthy transfer of gospel-centered DNA into your leaders, they must be a priority. You want to be a multiplying church, but you don’t want to multiply unhealthy things. Early on, make the choice to prioritize the gospel health of your people.
3. Embrace the appropriate leadership style for your size.
When I first connected with church planting, I failed to realize that different sizes of churches needed different styles of leadership. I had never served a church smaller than 1700 people, and I wrongly assumed that leadership was leadership. Research this topic, and do the work of knowing what stage you are in and what style of leader your church needs in your situation.
4. Trust God to build his church.
This is not a new statement, but it continues to be a heart struggle in my life and the lives of other church planters. Church planting is a unique task, and trusting God to bring new life out of the soil where you are trying to plant is an act of faith. It’s a spiritual discipline not to run ahead of the season in which God has placed you. Our God-given desires for the good of our church are often mixed with misguided personal ambition. It’s hard not to live with your finger on the fast forward button, and the tension we feel is a good reminder that the church is Christ’s bride, not our pet project. Jesus loves his church even more than we do, and we can trust him to build her up.
As a father of four, I’m constantly reminding my kids to be kids. I want them to enjoy this season of life. My wife says that kids want to be adults because they think it’s more fun, until they are adults who think that kids have more fun. We miss out when we fail to act our age. So, take a long range perspective of your church’s journey, and fight for the joy of this particular season in the life of your church.
Church planter, are you acting your age? Which of the four points above most need your attention? Would it be helpful to discuss this with your leadership team?