Twenty Lessons from 20 Years of Church Planting
In June of 1998, I joined my first church planting team in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We helped in late stage planting of Celebration Church in Rio Rancho and in starting Bible Studies in apartment complexes in Albuquerque’s north side. Since then, Heather and I have set up chairs for church in Apartment complexes, fire stations, store fronts, gyms, schools, a museum, and an old church sanctuary or two. Reflecting in my journal the past few weeks on some of the tough lessons learned and that I’m still learning along this journey. Here’s 20 off the top:
- Judge each day by the seeds you plant, not the harvest you reap.
- Communities have different degrees of spiritual receptivity or soil conditions (see Matthew 13). Timing of results may be dependent upon how long it takes to cultivate the ground.
- Expect to feel like a failure. Be patient. “patience is better than power” (Proverbs 16:32)
- Failure can be a friend. The best lessons have been learned in my failure and weakness. The first four events I planned as a church planter, no one showed up! Best thing that ever happened to me.
- Church Planting = burning shoe leather. Intentionality, determination, perseverance, relationships.
- If you’re not successful, someone behind you probably will be. We all stand on the shoulders of those before us, or we prepare the ground for the success of those who will come behind us.
- If God called you, he’s calling others to partner with you. Believe it!
- God has no small churches, and no big pastors. When you have 25 people, you should preach and serve just like there is 25,000.
- Persons of peace make ministry possible and show God’s favor. Pray for them. Watch for them. From Apartment complex managers, to fire chiefs, to restaurant owners, to community leaders; a successful church plant will have a long list of community people that opened the doors for ministry. Remembering these names and faces along our journey.
- It takes all different kinds of churches to reach all different kinds of people. One church can’t reach everyone around them. Many Christians don’t understand the gap between some lost people and attending their church. We. Must. Plant. More. Churches.
- The value of a godly, faithful wife along this journey is incalculable. I would have quit a long time ago were it not for the faithful love, prayer, faithful service, and counsel of my godly wife.
- Expect criticism. And don’t expect it to ever get easier to digest.
- Don’t compare your work to others. No two church planting scenarios or ministry settings are equal.
- If it seems like God is trying to kill you, He is. Death to self will be an outcome of faithfulness in church planting.
- It’s about the whole world, not just your church. From the beginning, get a vision for the people your church will impact all over the world.
- Expect pastoral competitiveness. Many pastors have had joy at my presence and success as a church planter. Some have sounded like David’s older brother, “with whom did you leave those few sheep?” (1 Samuel 17:28)
- Don’t ignore longstanding rules of thumb as a rule. The things wise, experienced leaders told me that I ignored, almost always came back to haunt me.
- Faithfulness trumps talent on a church planting and leadership team. Look for faithfulness and character first, talent second.
- The resources are in the harvest. The quicker you can turn the harvest (i.e. people reached) into the resourcers of the ministry the better. Mobilize immediately.
- When there are no other answers, perseverance is the answer.
I love church planting. I’ve also hated it a lot of times over the past 20 years. Lol! I’m stilled convinced of something I heard at the very beginning of this journey – “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven” – Peter Wagner. I hope and pray that God allows me to be a part of many more new starts over the next 20 years.