When I’ve answered the same questions numerous times, I feel there may be a need for a post. Recently, I’ve spoken with a dozen or so church planters, or those wrestling the call, several each week, and the same issues come up every time. I want to share some thoughts based on my personal experiences planting two churches. These are usually transferable to all church pastorates, but especially planters.
Here are 3 challenges for the church planter:
Finances – I get asked if my established church will be a “strategic partner” in a church plant about once every couple of weeks. I get it. I really do. We don’t have any extra money right now, but church planting takes money. It is great if your mother church can support your budget or you get numerous churches to contribute. Don’t turn down cash. You’ll need it. Lots of it.
But I always offer a reality check here. The money will always be tight. There will never be enough. It’s in very rare circumstances this is not true.
My strong word of encouragement is to strive to rely less on outside help and more on those God has called you to minister with in the church plant.
When we planted, both times, we challenged the people building the ministry to fund the ministry. And it is a challenge. It means you’ll often be discipling people to give who aren’t accustomed to giving. But you’ll need disciplined and fully invested people. If they have their money on the line they’ll do almost anything to make the plant work. As much as possible, build your ministry around the people in the room. Their generosity will often determine your ability to grow a healthy church. Plus, it’s good discipleship to build into the church’s DNA.
I know. That’s a hard word, isn’t it? But look at it this way: the time you spend jumping through hoops for a few dollars from a denomination that often come with multiple strings attached, you can spend building maturity in your people who will support you financially.
Marriage – Men and women are different and will react differently to the move and to the stress of planting. I’ve found it can be an excellent balance if the two are in sync with each other and communicating well. You should both be equally called, but your initial enthusiasm may not be the same.
One thing I’ve noticed, and cautioned many planters, is that the wife’s emotions may (probably will) respond differently. I’ve always found Cheryl to be slower to acclimate emotionally to the new place of service. She can know it is where we are supposed to be. Her faith is often even stronger than mine. But her heart is more likely to be tender longer towards the place we left. I have to be careful not to assume she’s as excited everyday as I am.
I’ve observed many planters, especially those with young children, while they are experiencing the thrill of a new calling, their spouse is changing diapers during the day. If the planter isn’t careful, totally unintentionally, he will appear to over-emphasize his role and diminish the wife’s role. (That could be vice-versa depending on the roles in the plant.) This can happen just in language or the things you celebrate each day. Don’t get so distracted by the plant that you aren’t equally excited when your 18 month old learns a new trick.
It is important to remember each spouse’s role is equal in importance and value in the process of planting.
Location – I talk with so many who feel they are called to church planting, but can’t discern where they are supposed to plant. Many are looking for a location. A specific address. The exact right building, in a certain city, on the right side of town. I get that too. You want to know where God wants you to be.
Unless you have clear direction or clear indication not to go somewhere, my advice is simply to plant where you land. Seek opportunities that appear to be open doors and pray for clarity, but if God doesn’t intervene or interrupt, plant. Plant where you land, where you see a great need, where your heart seems to take you. You can follow your gut if you’re following Jesus.
I learned this principle in a very practical way. At one point, I felt my “calling” was to plant a church in New York City. Cheryl and I love the city. We had heard the great need. (The need is great.) We visited the city to pray. I walked the streets of the upper West Side of Manhattan and talked with God. I said, “God, if you want me to plant a church here, give me an overwhelming love for these people.” In a rare time of hearing clearly from God, I sensed God say, “Ron, (I love that He knows my name) as long as you have a heart for me, you will have a heart for people; wherever you are.” I believe God released me to plant… plant where there are people who need to be reached.
I think God may call you to an exact location. He may even give you a clear address. He may have one exact building in mind. But many times, He may give you some latitude in your selection. Certainly in the precise location within your city. People seem to need Jesus everywhere I go.
We actually switched sides of town this way. In both plants. An opportunity for meeting space came available that we didn’t expect. With this previous “New York” encouragement from God, as a planter, I felt freed to follow opportunities as they came rather than wait for God to write something in the sky. We moved quickly. It changed our focus area, some of the church demographics, but both have proved to be definite wise moves in the years that followed.