In January, I started working on a church plant with a few friends. My involvement wasn’t public until late February because of various timing issues but in total, I’m six months into this new venture. As a church planting novice, this first half year has been eye opening, challenging, and exhilarating. Here are six lessons I’ve learned from my first six months as a church planter. This is by no means a comprehensive or definitive list for church planters – just a few things I’ve learned in my context.
Love for Community begins with Love for Team. I love the people I work with. I don’t just love working with them or planting a church with them. I actually love them. This love has developed over the past few months as we’ve been in the trenches, grinding it out on most days. There is a sense of family that develops out of friendship when sharing something as intimate and intense as planting a church. I’ve found that my love for our team has deeply influenced my heart for our community. I am beginning to see our community as an extension of our team and so it has become increasingly more natural for me to love our community because I so deeply love our team.
Focus on Growing Stronger, Not Bigger. I stole this directly from my friend Ryan, who also happens to be my boss and co-planter. Let’s not over simplify and say that size doesn’t matter. It does, for a number of reasons we won’t get into here. But when an organization, especially a church, focuses primarily on getting bigger, there is a growing temptation to speed up the process in all sorts of unhealthy, unnatural ways. Healthy things grow naturally, so a focus on growing stronger will result in healthy growth, often in supernatural ways.
Celebrate People, not Programs. Churches, especially here in the west, are designed with our worship services and various programs offered as the centerpieces of what we do and, in turn, who we are. But most of us would also agree that the church is people, not a building, a service, or a program. Many of us have said as much. We must address this discrepancy not just with our words but with our actions, in what we celebrate, promote, and emphasize. We must focus on celebrating the stories of what God is doing in people and place less emphasis on all the cool stuff we’re doing or the great programs we offer.
Friendships trump Strategies & Systems… Strategies and systems are vital [more on that below] but friendships are of primary importance. Jesus calls his disciples friends [John 15:14-15] and bases this friendship on the disciples’ ability and willingness to remain in his love for them, love one another, obey his commands, and produce fruit with their lives. It seems to me that these are the essentials of any church – love God, love one another, follow him in obedience, and watch as God produces fruit through our efforts. As such, we must begin with friendship – friendship with God and with one another. Friendships are built on trust and where there is trust, there is room for failure, learning, and growth. There is also joy, delight, and rest in friendships. I’ve found this to be the best place from which to operate when church planting.
…But Strategies & Systems are Necessary. I’m not good with strategies and systems. I tend to be much more abstract and ambiguous in my thinking, which gets me into trouble sometimes. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by friends who are very strategic and great with creating systems. Some have made the mistake of thinking that allowing the Spirit to lead means sitting by idly, waiting for something to happen with no plan in place, totally unprepared to respond well if and when God moves. During the Exodus, as God led the Israelites through the wilderness, the people lived within a nomadic system with a detailed strategy for packing up and moving quickly whenever God was on the move. Strategies and systems are never the catalysts for life change but they are the operating procedures which allow us to move with God as he leads our kingdom charge into our city.
God’s Kingdom has no room for our Empires. The temptation for most of us, from small church plants to established mega-churches, is to build our own empires. No one ever really admits to empire-building but it’s seen in a number of ways – lack of relationship with other churches, with the city, and with the community. In these last six months, I’ve been humbled and inspired by the ways other churches in our city have rallied around us, supported us, and come to our aid in times of need. Our relationships with these churches reminds me that we are all in this together. Our churches are not warring empires from distant lands. They are all cities on the one hill of God’s eternal kingdom. When we embrace this reality, we are released from all sorts of false pressures and can more effectively go about the eternal work God has called all of us to.
*If you live in or near the San Jose area and are interested in hearing more about the launch of Awakening Church this fall, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check us out online at www.awakeningchurch.com