It was a time in the life of my family's ministry that seemed to be the hardest for us. Crystal, our kids, and myself had been called to plant Anchor Church in Sikeston, Missouri. We did not know what that even meant for us or what that would look like. But, we were certain God had sent us on this mission and we wanted to be faithful.
While in that season, there were many times we were not sure that we could do it. We cried many tears over our lack of skill when it came to planting a church. For twelve years we had served in student ministry. We felt comfortable with that. But this was an entirely different ball game.
Now, we are almost two years beyond our official launch (April 13, 2014). As I look back on that season in my life, I have found that I learned great things during that time. It is still very challenging; we still feel times of anxiety and we still sometimes crumble under the pressure of the call. But, we have learned to embrace those things that were discovered as we prepared to launch. So, if I were to give a potential church planter some advice for that season in their process of planting, I would encourage them in the following ways:
EMBRACE THE CHURCH
What I mean by this is, recognize the role that the universal church plays in where you are in the process. I think there is a tendency for planters to go in to the process thinking, “I am going to do it better than any other church has ever done.” Let me say, I appreciate that, but, graciously I want you to know that you are wrong. As a matter of fact, you need to realize that the Church is your best ally. The Church will be you best financial supporters. They will be your strongest prayer support. When you have questions, they will be there to help…or at least they should. So, do not see them as the competition. Recognize them as the friend that they can be to you.
EMBRACE YOUR FELLOW PASTORS
I know this may sound redundant, but it is not. As a church planter, you have to understand that you will usually be taking the role of Lead Pastor, or whatever title you will give it. In other words, you will be responsible for shepherding the flock that is among you. I can tell you, I had no true idea what that meant. But, I had about 12 guys who have spent years doing that. No, they do not necessarily do it perfectly. No, they may not do it exactly how I would do it. But, they did it. And that is golden. They can give you advice, help watch your blind spots, and help with accountability. Find those guys, build relationships with them, and listen to them.
There were times I got so tied up in the process of getting ready to launch a new plant that I ended up lonely. My head for so wrapped in getting it correct, that I had my buried my head in the sand. Then, when I pulled my head up, I found that I had secluded myself from all relationships. This is a scary place to be. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I had great friends, some in our core group and some not even in our group, that I knew I could call on. I am confident that those friends have become life-long friends and I am thankful that they heard me in some of my darkest times.
EMBRACE YOUR SPOUSE
I really want this to be clear. Crystal, my wife, is the greatest earthly friend I have. And when we were going through the process, she was by my side – and still is. When I would lay in bed, fighting anxiety over my lack of ability, she would grab my hand, wipe my tears and say, “It will be okay”. I can not even imagine the pressure on her. I do not remember the roles being reversed, where I comforted her. Probably because she is the strong, brave, Christ-following woman God put in my life to offset my weak, fearful, failing flesh. Brothers, keep her close.
EMBRACE THE POWER OF GOD
Finally, realize that if God has called you to this work, He will guide the work for His glory. Now, this does not mean you will have a mega-church. As a matter of fact, you may not start a “church” as you know it. But, if you are faithfully focused on God’s glory, empowered by His Spirit, proclaiming the good news of Christ, God will let you experience joy that you will never be able to explain. Some of that joy will come in victory and some of that joy will come in failure. But, all in all, know that your identity is not in the church plant or the people’s idea of “church”. Your identity is in Christ. And we can rest in that glorious truth.
I am sure I will continue to learn as we continue to grow in the Lord. But, as I recall that season in my life, I am thankful for how the Lord spurred me forward in my sanctification. Press on, planter!