I've planted two churches. In each plant, God overwhelmed us continually with what He did among us. I feel humbled and blessed to be a part of such healthy environments God uses to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I have learned a few things in the process. Some of these were new insights and some of were things I had confirmed, but all are things I would suggest other church planters consider.
Here are 5 lessons I learned in church planting:
1. Don't shy away from leaders, even though they are churched—you'll need them. When we started, if a person showed up who regularly attended another local church, we shied away from them. We weren't rude to them, but we really didn't pursue them as we did other visitors, simply out of respect of other churches. What I have learned, however, is that many times this was standing in the way of something God was doing in the person's life. At the same time, we were suffering from a leadership void not having enough people ready to lead in a church setting. There's a huge difference between recruiting and accepting churched people into a church plant.
2. Don't be afraid to talk about money—you'll need it. I know this is a problem for many church planters, because a perception is that people church plants reach are repelled by money talks. Granted, some people wrongly feel that all churches talk about is money and so they push back any time money is mentioned. We can know and tell people that Jesus talked much about money (some say more than any other subject), but in an attempt to be attractive to unchurched people, church plants often avoid any money talk whatsoever. What I learned, however, is that it takes money to minister to people. Additionally, part of the spiritual growth process of a person is how they view and handle money, and one of my roles is to help them mature in this area. I can't do that unless we talk about it. And, the pushback when we do, if handled with truth and grace, is far less than I expected it to be.
3. Surround yourself with some encouragers—some days they'll keep you going. The work of church planting by itself is tough and places a strain on the planter and his or her family, but church planting also has plenty of naysayers. The church world can be very competitive, and church planters are not always the most popular pastors among the established church world. Because things are new and in the discovery phase of building a church, not everyone will agree with every decision. (That's in every church setting.) I've learned I needed enough people around me who believe in me and the vision of the plant so that on the days when I was down they could encourage me to pick my head up and keep moving forward towards what God had called us to do.
4. Know what to control and what to let go of—you'll be stretched if you don't. There are some things to hold on to very tightly, such as vision or senior leadership positions, but I learned to let go of things such as how the vision gets implemented or what color we use for rugs in the preschool area. (I never would have stressed about that last one—but you get the idea.) The more I allowed others to do and take leadership of, the greater success we had in reaching our overall vision.
5. Embrace hurting people—as much as it hurts. We extended so much grace to people—and we were burned a few times. I have been personally hurt by people to whom I invested so much love and support; who quickly fell back into their old way of life. I know God rewards this sacrifice, but it still stings. The fact is however, that some of the best leaders we developed over the years were hurting, broken people when they arrived. God still does miracles with people when we extend His grace and truth. (And, those have to be extended on an equal basis.)
I am not sure these are unique experiences to church plants—in fact, they are true now that I'm serving in church revitalization, but certainly church planting was where these paradigms were shaped in me. It was a learning process every day—as all leadership positions are, but my hope is that others will learn from our experience.
Which of these do you most need reminding of today?
Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.
For a limited time, we are extending our celebration of our 40th anniversary. As a special offer, subscribe to Ministry Today magazine and receive 50% OFF our normal discounted rate!