Saturday, November 26, 2016

Things That Happen to Church Planters

Dear new or prospective church planter,

Welcome to my very outdated and mostly inactive blog! My name is Amanda and I am married to a preacher boy from Missouri who moved down to Texas all for love. We’ve been married for 14 years and have a 10-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 1-year-old baby girl. Growing up, it never entered my mind that I might marry a man in ministry. But when I met Curtis, I fell in love and became quite willing to sign up for whatever was in his future. We were surprised to be called into church planting after our years of working in student ministry and parachurch ministry. 

Our church, Bayou City Fellowship, celebrated its fifth birthday in September. My son started kindergarten right before we launched and he just started fifth grade. It’s hard to believe. We planted a second campus right after we turned two because we ran out of room for kids in the school we were leasing. Since our second campus is still so young and since our first campus recently relocated, it doesn’t feel like we are five years past our launch. Sometimes people share memories from the early days and I realize we’ve been doing this long enough for me to forget things. We’ve accumulated a nice little chunk of years. We have to get to five before we get to twenty-five, right? 

With our first five years under our belt, I’d like to share some of the most challenging and some of the most rewarding things we have experienced as church planters. I am going to start with the hard stuff so we can end on a positive note. I want to shed light on these situations so that if they happen to you, you can look at what’s real and let fear and discouragement leave quickly. I also hope someone who’s experiencing them will be encouraged to know they’re not alone. I’m praying that my words, heart, and tone will honor God and be helpful to anyone who comes across this in the future.

In sharing some of our challenging experiences, I would never want to dishonor my beloved church, which I love deeply with my heart and spirit. Our two campuses feel like they are our children, having been birthed after months of anticipation, through very painful labor and joyful delivery. We have the privilege of serving with and ministering to some of the most loving, gracious, generous, courageous, accepting, hard-working, faith-filled, and Jesus-focused people I can imagine. God has graced us beyond our wildest dreams. But we are also a church family made up of human beings, and that means we all bring sin natures, spiritual weaknesses, old wounds, fresh wounds, church-related baggage, expectations and opinions to the table. It can get real. Very real. What a miracle it is when Jesus supernaturally binds a bunch of flawed people together into a wonderful, eclectic family. We, like every other church and every other family, have to work at loving one another well. I suppose 90% of the tough things we go through are experienced at every other church in America. So here we go… 

10 hard things that happen when you plant a church:

1) You and your church will be vulnerable to controlling people who are drawn to your newness and inexperience. People who were not given the platform they desired at their previous church will hope to get it from you. Over time you will discern the controlling people from the servant leaders. It is likely that they will leave when you refuse to be controlled anymore. Don’t develop a suspicious spirit about people (this is very destructive) but ask God to make you as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. 

2) The enemy will carefully orchestrate “perfect storm” situations that you never could have imagined. When his well planned attacks are executed, you will experience shock and awe. You will climb out of the rubble, stumble toward Jesus and fall at His feet. He will deliver you in time. You will look at Him in holy awe when He builds an even more beautiful house out of the parts that had crumbled. 

3) You will be intimidated by “everyone” and “a lot of people.” These terms will be used to put pressure on you. For example, “I think we should ____ and a lot of other people do, too” is more powerful than plain old “I think we should _____.”  Everyone and a lot of people can make you feel like the sky is falling. That is, until you wise up to the fact that “everyone” and “a lot of people” is usually one other person who wouldn’t bother talking directly to you about it. 

4) People will tell you they miss “the good ole days.” This can sting and make you feel cruddy about the growth your church has experienced. Did you do something wrong by opening your doors to the community? Of course not. Those early seasons had their own difficulties that we don’t always remember. It was never our goal to create a spiritual country club that catered to the comfort and social needs of its members. No Spirit-led person would sign up for that. We must resist the desire to hunker down with our favorite people (gag) and keep everything the same until we die out. 

5) Your family will sometimes be treated as more than human or less than human.* There will be people who flatter you and put you on a pedestal. They will think you can do no wrong. They will credit you for doing things only God can do. It will feel weird and it should. There will also be people who treat you like a door mat. They will make sure you feel guilty about taking any Sundays off. They will behave as though you don’t have feelings. They will send you anonymous emails. They want you to quit. Most people will understand that you and your family are the same amount of human as everyone else in the church.

6) You will say painful goodbyes. Some people you can’t imagine your church without will leave. Even if you totally understand their reason, it doesn’t feel good. It hurts your pride and it hurts your heart. It’ll be okay though. Be grateful for what they contributed to the church and be open to new leaders and friends. God is the only One your church can’t live without. Send them out with a blessing.

7) You will not always approve of yourself. You don’t want to need forgiveness from the people of your church, but you will. You will not be perfect. Sometimes you will be blame-worthy. Sometimes you will sabotage Sunday morning with your bad mood and it will affect the whole congregation. Sometimes you will poison the garden with your very own big mouth. It will not be long after your launch that you will walk into church with a keen awareness that you minister by God’s grace. It is not a bad thing for the leaders of the church to be the most aware of their need for Him.

8) Given enough time, you will offend everyone and be offended by everyone. You will notice that certain people don’t look you in the eye anymore. And you will catch yourself avoiding certain people. Close relationships are impossible without forgiveness and humility. Develop the ability to forgive quickly and move on. This is important for longevity. If we aren’t good forgivers and if we can’t ask for forgiveness, than we might as well leave the ministry. Forgiveness is a really big deal to Jesus. 

9) You will live under constant pressure. The church is heavy. Jesus ultimately carries it, but He lets you feel quite a bit of the weight. We found a Christian counselor who is well acquainted with pastoral ministry. When the oven gets really hot we know we can go to him and talk it out. Ask God for someone trustworthy to help you process what you are experiencing. No one wants to burn out in their 30’s. It will take self-care to finish this marathon at a ripe, old age. Also, when God gives you days of lightheartedness and laughter, squeeze out every last drop. 

10) These and other hardships will purify your heart for Jesus. They will keep you from loving your work, position, influence and calling more than you love God. They will protect the Priority Love. I learned this principle from my mom and I’m so thankful for the hope it gives me. 

Now, on to the good stuff! 

10 great things I hope you will get to experience when you plant a church:

1) You will never be bored. If you’re the kind of person who needs a lot to do, you’re in the right place! One of my kids went through a season of occupational therapy and during that time I learned the term “heavy work.”  Certain people require a lot of heavy work for their bodies to regulate. If you require heavy work in the physical, mental, spiritual or emotional sense, you will find church planting to be very satisfying.  

2) You will get to see many of your ministry dreams come true. When you start a church from the ground up, the schedule is not too crowded to do the ministries you’re dreaming of. One of the ministry dreams I had for a long time was for our church to start an ESL program. Some amazing ladies in our church launched this beautiful ministry in the fall and it gives my heart so much joy that we can serve internationals in our community. 

3) God will send you some very special people to put their gifts into action and you will thank Him every time you see them. These people are so talented, hard-working, sacrificial, and wonderful, you won’t believe it. You know you don’t deserve to have them at your church, so you will lavish praise on Jesus for His grace. 

4) Your prayer life will have an incredible opportunity to thrive. Prayer should be a huge part of a church planter’s life and of the life of his church. The Lord will answer your prayers so specifically, you will fall to your knees in awe of Him. He will do miracle after miracle, big and small.

5) There will be people in your church you love so much, you’ll wonder how you went your whole life without knowing them. Relationships are the best part of church planting. Curtis and I often say, “Isn’t it weird that we didn’t even know ________ three years ago?” 

6) You will learn to appreciate the diversity of gifts in the body of Christ. You will become keenly aware of how many spiritual gifts it takes to make the ship seaworthy. As we began our church planting process, we prayed that God would bring us every spiritual gift and every part of the body of Christ to help our church thrive. And He did it! It is beautiful to see them all working together. 

7) You will be cared for by your church family. I pray you will find this to be true. When we launched our church, the enemy came at my husband many nights in a row through terrifying dreams. One night, without telling us, a bunch of the men on our core team took turns praying for him every hour so he could sleep. The nightmares stopped. Also, when we had our youngest baby, people brought us meals every single night for a month. We couldn’t believe it. 

8) You will see your struggles and painful life experiences redeemed as you use them to minister to people. Our prayer team is pretty big and it always amazes me when God sends a woman with a familiar struggle to pray with me. Almost every Sunday I get a taste of that redemption. Thank You, Jesus.

9) The person who really, really doesn’t like you will probably not stay. I can’t imagine why anyone would stay at a church plant when they don’t like the pastor. It wouldn’t really pay to stay and be grumpy and try to outlast them.

10) For the pastor’s wife, there’s no collective pressure to be like the one who was there before you. You may feel more free to be yourself instead of fitting into a mold. At first, you will probably serve in the areas with the biggest need, but over time you will be able to serve where your gifts and passions align. 

Friend, I pray a blessing on you and your family as you seek God's will for your ministry. May you hear His voice, have His vision, be given the strength of His hands and the steadiness of His feet. And may your heart only and always be His. 

*I got the concept of “more than a human” and “less than a human” from a book called Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge a few years ago. Eldridge quoted speaker and author John Bradshaw from his book Homecoming. He wrote about toxic shame that can cause individuals to be more than human (ex: perfect) or less than human (ex: a slob). He says healthy shame allows us to make mistakes, which are an integral part of being human. You can read it in context here.