8 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again if Planting Another Church

Church

I have been involved in church planting for most of my ministry career – whether as a planter or as a supporter of planting. I love the process of planting. I love the energy and the enthusiasm a new church brings to a community.

Having planted two churches, I’ve learned a few things. Some of the things I’ve learned are things I wouldn’t do again if were were planting another church.

If you are planting now – or in the future – I hope these are helpful.

Here are 8 things I wouldn’t do again if planting a church:

Limit God’s vision.

In our first plant, we started as a church to reach one section of town. As we grew, God seemed to lead us to a different target geographically. In our second plant, we started in one location, relocated, then ended up in two different locations – in each move reaching entirely different segments of our community. God continued to refine and shape our path as a church. Who we were a few years in was not necessarily who we thought we would be as a church.

Fail to challenge people to grow in their walk with Christ.

I don’t know that we shied away from this – it certainly was our heart and our vision to make disciples, but in the early days, we were very conscious of reaching the lost. I wouldn’t change that either – and I’m still trying. Reflecting back, however, we may not have been as bold as I wish we had been in challenging people to grow. In addition to growing in weekly attendance people need to grow individually. It wasn’t enough to know Jesus – we needed to strive to be like Him – even when it involved change in them and their daily lives.

Shy away from talking about money.

So many people think all a church does is talk about money. We attempted to avoid this stigma from day one. We concentrated more on serving than we did giving. (And, both are needed.) In the process, we neglected to develop our core givers those first couple of years, we put ministries on hold we should be pursuing, and we robbed people of the opportunity to become generous givers and consequently to feel the reward of trusting God completely.

Resist leaders from other churches.

We wanted to plant a church for non-believers, but we needed leadership to be successful. When leaders from other churches came, however, we were hesitant to plug them in for fear we would be seen negatively by other churches. In the process, we missed out on quality leadership and we denied people the right to follow their own heart.

Expect everyone to be as committed a few years into the plant.

The fact is, life changes. Some people are starters and some are finishers. Some of the original people will grow bored with things as they are and or they may even disagree with some of the directions the church plant goes. Some will become overwhelmed, tired, or simply feel led elsewhere. They had a great impact in our beginning, but they sought opportunities elsewhere in later years – and it’s okay. Be thankful for the investment they made in the beginning.

Worry about the external critics.

In both plants, it seemed our biggest critics were from other churches in the area. They didn’t agree with our style of worship, our teaching (which we tried to make very Biblical), or even the need for us to exist. I let it bother me too much the first couple years. Then I had a wise planter give me some advice. I still hold on to it today for other applications. He said, “Ron, seek your affirmation among the people God sent you to minister to”. The people we were reaching with the church plant – the hurting, lost, wanderers – were so thankful we had obeyed God to plant. The more I focused on them the greater sense of accomplishment I felt in my obedience to God. 

Wait long to reproduce.

We were 5 years old when we launched our second campus. I see churches do this in their second full year. There are so many in our city who need hope. Taking a risk on my own comes easy, but sometimes I’m too careful when representing God – as if He can’t handle something so large. When God leads, I want to move quickly. We saw several opportunities to launch other locations we passed on because we didn’t feel “ready”. I’m not sure we ever would have been. 

Delay the need to add structure.

We were a church plant. We were often escaping the structure and traditions which keep so many churches from growing and reaching outsiders. But, with growth can quickly come chaos without some carefully planned policies and procedures. You want to add smart structure – and always want to be open to frequent and even constant change, but even church plants need a few systems to guide the organization. And, the best way to do this may be to find people to help you do it. With a background in business I was a natural to do this, but I hated the management part of it – so we didn’t do it as well as it could be done. We were running well over 1,000 before we hired someone as an administrator. We should have done this earlier. If a church is 400 or 500 hundred in attendance this becomes a full-time job. If the plant is smaller – recruit part-time help or even volunteers. 

Have you ever been part of a church plant? Anything you could share with us?

Silence Can Be Deadly!

Especially when people are involved.

Mouth covered with tape

You’ve heard silence is golden – and it’s true. One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 5:2. “God is in heaven and you are on earth. Let your words be few.”. James tells us to guard the tongue. I often get in less trouble when I talk less.

And, maybe this is exactly the encouragement you need from this post. Quit talking long enough to think before you speak – or before you post on Facebook! 

But, silence can also be deadly.

Especially in a team environment, in an organizational structure, or in a relational setting – anywhere people are closely involved with other people – silence can be a curse. When working on a project, implementing change, planning for the future – silence can kill you!

The point of this post is simply to remind you – people only know what they know. They often won’t know what they need to know unless you tell them.

In the process of leading people, keep people updated with what you know. Even if you don’t have all the answers, let them have the answers you do have.

When people don’t have information, they tend to invent their own scenarios.

Silence fuels rumors. They make up stories. They stretch and fabricate what the little they do know. Fear, tension, and frustrations rise. Even those who were once fully invested often become discouraged. Morale is injured and enthusiasm wanes.

And, all of these mostly emotionally-driven reactions are fueled by the unknown – by silence.

In my experience, people will be more patient if they receive adequate communication while they wait for the final details. Of course, the main thing people need to know is the why behind what you are doing – and you must keep reminding the – but they also want details of progress along the way. If you want to keep progress moving forward – break the silence and share information. Keep people informed. Communicate!

Have you experienced the pain of silence in a team, organizational, or relationship setting?

I Am a Pastor – And, I May Be Suffering From Burnout

What Now?

Desperate man holding his face in hands appears in a miserable state of unhappiness.

Pastor burnout is a common problem in the church today. I hear from pastors on a regular basis facing the stress of ministry. 

Here’s a common scenario, which can cause burnout to happen. These may be some of the more common ones I hear. Perhaps this is your story.

  • The church gets to a certain level.
  • Things start to slow down.
  • The church stops growing.
  • Maybe even slides backwards for a while.
  • Money becomes tighter.
  • People are complaining more.
  • Everyone is asking the pastor “What’s next?” “What do we do now?”
  • You’ve done everything you know how to do.
  • You feel stuck – trapped – afraid – paralyzed – confused – overwhelmed.

And, this is just one scenario. There are so many others. It could be the church is still growing – even rapidly, but the pastor is doing more now than previously. There never seems to be an end to the growth. People are demanding more and more from the pastor – there’s pressure to continue the increases – but, it feels like life is always going to be running out of control.

Pick your own scenario, but I know this – if not careful, the stress will quickly cause the pastor to:

  • Become more sensitive to criticism and stress.
  • Stop reading and learning techniques and strategies.
  • Quit taking risks – for fear of messing something up.
  • Become protective – maybe even isolated from others.
  • Develop excuses for every challenge.
  • Respond defensively to every challenge.
  • Begin to question your abilities.
  • Work harder, but not smarter.

No doubt, even if only a few of these are true, these are impacting every area of your life – including your family. 

If this is your story, I have a few words of encouragement:

  • Get help now. It might be professional help or not, but ask for help today!  You wouldn’t encourage the people you lead to do life alone – so why is it a good idea for you?
  • Surround yourself with people. Not the opposite, which can be a usual response to times like this – especially it seems by pastors.  Find people who love you – they are there if you look.
  • Find your center of gravity again. (Most likely this is Christ, right?)
  • Get back to the truth you already know.  You may start by reading 1 Kings 19 for another time one of God’s servants fell on difficult times. Read the Psalms. 
  • Renew the passion for your vision. God called you to something. He never said it would be easy. God-given dreams rarely are. Let whatever fuels you most fuel you again. This may mean you have to stop doing a lot of other things – even things people expect you to do – so you can better concentrate on what God called you to do. And, I assure you it wasn’t to please everyone. Plus, some of the stuff you are doing someone else probably needs to be – it’s could even be what God has gifted them to uniquely do. 
  • Start doing something towards a goal.  Inactivity never solved anything. you may need to rest – I’ll cover that too, but you may need to see progress towards something new to refuel your tank. Again, this doesn’t mean doing more. It means doing something better with your time – and trusting others with some of the things you’ve been doing. It means getting better as a leader – a Jethro counseled Moses type of leader. An Acts 6 type of leader. 
  • Look for some small wins.  It will help rebuild your confidence.
  • Stay faithful in the small things. Those disciplines you once had – such as reading your Bible everyday – but, you may have gotten distracted from them – they are even more important now. 
  • Discipline your Sabbath. This is huge! God didn’t give this command for seasons when everything was “caught up” and there were no more immediate demands. Those days never come! God knew what He was doing when He commanded a regular Sabbath – and, when He demonstrated it for us in His Creation. So, certainly a day a week, but if you need more it would be better to quit for a quarter than be out for the rest of the game.

Thanks for serving – even when the serving gets difficult. I am praying for you.

(You can make this post better if you share resources you know of to support pastors who may be facing burnout.)

 

Sometimes, as a leader, I need a reminder

You may also

running alone

I am a runner. When my knees are good I have been known to run as many as 6 days a week. When I run I am serious about it. I watch the time. I pace myself. I measure my distance. I check my calories burned. I do it for exercise. I run for personal well-being. I run because I love to run.

Running isn’t always easy. Sometimes I spend time thinking about the sports drink waiting for me when I get home. I think about how much my legs hurt. Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about whether my knees will allow me to continue running. On longer runs I’m almost always thinking towards the end about how ready I am to be home.

Then all of a sudden – when I’m about to be disappointed I’m still running – sometimes I will stop and think.

I chose this!

No one forced me to run. I chose this as my form of exercise. I could be in the gym – bored to death on the treadmill. I could be on the couch – bored to death with the monotony of television. I could be in a crowded meeting full of dozens of extroverts.

Running is my time. Running is what I choose to do for me.

It’s actually supposed to be fun!

It’s this way in leadership too at times.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the stress of leadership we forget – I chose to be a leader.

I wasn’t forced into this position. Sure, God “called” me into ministry. And, it is a job, which pays our bills – thank you Jesus! But I said “Yes, Lord”. I surrendered willingly.

No one made me be a leader. I wanted the opportunity to make a difference. I had a dream. I had a God-given vision.

Sometimes I need to remind myself. Some days more than others.

I wanted this! And, I’m thankful for the opportunity.

Do you need reminding you chose to accept the position of leadership?

Peace Often Comes Through Obedience

Man walking barefood on the beach

Are you struggling with a “word from God”?

Do you feel there is something you need to do, but you aren’t quite certain about it yet?

Do you wish you had greater “peace” before you struck out to follow a dream – a dream you feel is God-given?

Are you sensing a desire to plant a church, revitalize a church, launch a new ministry effort, or surrender to vocational ministry?

If any of those or a similar scenario is your current story I may have a word of encouragement for you – or perhaps a word of challenge.

In my experience, peace often doesn’t come until obedience begins.

Seldom do I have complete peace prior to beginning to obey what I sense God is calling me to do.

Many times the direction God appears to be leading me doesn’t make sense. I’m restless. I don’t sleep well. I may even question myself and what I’m sensing.

I’ve previously written steps I take to discern God’s will (You can read that HERE and HERE), but after I’ve done those processes, and I’m still sensing God’s leading, the next place for me hasn’t always been an overwhelming sense of peace. The next place for me is one of obedience.

I’ve learned I may have to get my feet wet (Read Joshua 3) before the waters begin to part and peace begins to fill my heart.

When we agreed with God (and the search committee) He was calling us to leave an enormously successful church plant to go to an established 100 plus year old church almost a third of the size – where budgets were stretched and I was expected to preach three times as much and visit far more hospital beds – and to wear a tie on Sunday – it was difficult to get peace about any of those things.

It wasn’t until we agreed, and I showed up to tell the leadership of our church plant we were leaving where God gave me an overwhelming sense of peace. I had to obey first though.

To finish the story, we are a different church in many ways today. I preach once a week and very rarely have on a tie. And, the church has grown beyond our imaginations and the budget is healthy. But, we couldn’t see all this going into the process.

Are you in one of those times of discernment? Do you sense God’s leading? Do you believe God is calling you to a new level of faith and dependence on Him?

The next step may be to get your feet wet.

Improve this post. Share your stories of where peace came in obedience.

7 Ways I Hope to be a Kingdom-Minded Pastor

Building Blocks

Shortly after I arrived at our established church I began saying frequently, “I want to be a Kingdom-minded pastor”. The phrase seemed to catch some by surprise. They had heard the term, but they really didn’t know what I meant when I said it. Thankfully, rather than remaining curious, someone eventually asked me, “What do you mean by that?”

Great question.

Then recently, I was sharing stories of some people who had exhibited life change through the power of Christ in their life. Someone said to me, “Those are great stories, but are those people even members of our church?”

Wow! I realized we were talking two entirely different paradigms.

So, what do I mean by hoping to have a Kingdom building mindset?

Here are 7 ways I hope to be Kingdom building:

Care more about a person’s relationship to Jesus than their denominational loyalties.

Care more about a person growing to be like Christ than their membership in our church.

Care more about disciples being made than who gets credit for doing it or who gets to “count” them. 

Care more about the Gospel being shared than the methodology of sharing it – or whether a person walks the aisle of the church or sits in a coffee shop to have it explained to them. 

Care more about people’s growth than the church policies and procedures.

Care more about my obedience to Christ than my approval from others.

Care more about God’s glory than man’s recognition.

Care more about whether a person can worship than the style of music they choose to do so.

Okay, there is 8, but I care less about the number than you getting the point of this post.

By the way, in my opinion, we tend to work hardest for what we care about most.

I am not at all saying I don’t want people to connect with the local church – even our local church. I hope we are a good option. But, their relationship with their Creator is where I’m most motivated. Let us begin there.

Freedom Passes – The New Math of Leadership

Student studying math on the blackboard full of formulas

When I was in school I had a love-hate relationship with math.

I loved doing math – working to find an answer to a problem. In fact, I was pretty good at it. I even served on the math team for a while.

But I hated having to solve the problem with the teacher’s methods.

On tests I would do poorly if the teacher made us show our work. I could get the right answers, but I wanted to use my own methods. The years I was on the math team and did best were when I had teachers who allowed me the freedom to find answers my way.

I realize the teacher needed to make sure I wasn’t cheating and I knew how to think through a specified process, but I wanted to invent my own process.

I think there is a leadership principle here. I have seen it so many times. 

If you want to empower people – give them a freedom pass.

In fact, if your team is currently stalled – maybe you need to hand out some freedom passes.

What’s a freedom pass? It is giving your people the freedom to complete their assignments in the way which works best for them. 

Successful leaders understand organizational success involves letting people figure out their own way. If you want team members to be energized towards progress they must be empowered to develop their own strategies for attaining the goals and objectives.

You still hold team members accountable for progress, but you allow them freedom to choose the process of completion. In practical terms this could be the hours they choose to work, where they do their work, and often who they include on their individual team. 

When you allow people to script the “how” they are more motivated to complete the “what”. People need space to create. They need to have input into the process of completing the vision of the team or organization.

Give people a Freedom Pass. It’s the new math of leadership. 

7 Words of Wisdom for Church Planters – and Other Ministry Leaders

St John Church

While meeting with a potential church planter some of the words of wisdom spoken to me over the years flooded my mind. I think they are valuable for all leaders, but especially my friends in ministry.

Some of these were given to me by others. Some were learned firsthand by experience.

Here are 7 words of wisdom for church planters and leaders:

Seek approval among the people to whom God sent you to minister

Obviously, we work for the approval of God, not man, but all of us need assurance at times from other people what we are doing matters. Church planting is unpopular among some established churches. There may be days when you feel like the “church’ community is working against you. When you lead an established church to grow your critics will be inside the building and those who resist change. Either way there will be critics.

A seasoned church planter gave me this advice. Most likely God didn’t call you to your assignment so you could be popular – or even to simply satisfy people who already love their church the way it is. He sent you to reach hurting, broken people – to be His witness to a dark world. My guess is those whom you are reaching are happy with your efforts.

Love God and you’ll love the people wherever God sends you

This happened to me when I just knew I was supposed to plant a church in New York City. I wanted to. I felt “led” to, at times. But, still, there wasn’t the peace or opportunity to do so. While walking the streets of NYC, I asked God to give me a clear heart for the people of New York if it was where He wanted me to be.

This line was one of the clearest words from God to me I’ve ever heard. If I truly love God, I will love the people and have a heart to make disciples among them, wherever I go. This is true in church planting and in church revitalization.

Don’t ignore churched people

When I was a new church planter, we ran from anyone who had any church affiliation. They weren’t our target. We didn’t want to offend other churches. We felt it was the “best” thing to do. In doing so, we robbed ourselves of potential leaders and kept some people from following the ministry God had laid on their heart.

The same is true in the established church. It can’t be all about the “new” people. You have to love the people who are already there. They are your best resource and partners to reach the lost and hurting. Learning to embrace them – even in the difficult days of change – is part of your Kingdom work.

Your wife may have to trust you

My wife has often known we were supposed to do something, but her heart has often been more tender when it comes to leaving the people we love. Her faith follows quickly, but her heart often lingers with the previous church.

At times, I have had to ask her to trust me, and my walk with Christ, when she can’t seem to force her heart to shift. (You actually can’t force a heart to change.) Unless she has a conviction against moving forward, if she’s willing, it is often helpful if she relies on my logic more than her emotions. Her emotional commitment always follows in time.

Peace comes through obedience

Sometimes the complete peace in a decision doesn’t come until I’ve said “Yes Lord” to what I sense He’s calling me to do. Saying yes, before I have all the assignment or all my questions are answered, seems to open the door for God to bring peace about the move. And, His blessing and glory.

God stirs the nest

Deuteronomy references God and the eagle stirring its nest. I’ve been told (and read) eagles build their nest with the roughest products they can find. Then they cover the structure with the softest, most comfortable material available. A baby eaglet never wants to leave the comfort of home, so to teach them to fly, a mother eagle stirs up the nest, uncovering the roughest part.

If things become real uncomfortable where you are it could be a God thing. He could be “stirring the nest”. Don’t be afraid of those times – they lead to His best for you.

Build DNA slowly

Once DNA is set, it’s very hard to change it. (My friends in the established church know this one well.) Secure senior leaders slowly. Add staff slowly. Add rules and structure slowly. What you repeat very many times will become tradition quickly and when you try to change it there will be resistance. Make sure it’s something you want in your DNA, before you allow it to get there.

To all my ministry leader friends – I’m pulling for you.

7 Dangers of Leading in Isolation

run away

I sat with a new pastor not long ago trying to hold a church together long enough to help it build again. The previous pastor left town – after a series of bad decisions – some decisions the church is still finding out about each new day.

I am happy to help the new pastor acclimate, but my greater concern was for the pastor who flamed out too early. The one who didn’t finish well. The one who left a church in a state of disarray and struggling to recover. 

And, sadly, I see it all the time. This pastor suffered from the same temptation any pastor faces. His number one problem in my opinion – he was leading in isolation.
He had no one on the inside of his life who knew him well enough to know when something was wrong and could confront him when necessary.

Leading in isolation is displayed in numerous ways to the detriment of the church or organization.

There are so many clear dangers I see in leading in isolation.

Here are 7 dangers of leading in isolation:

Moral failure

Without accountability in place many people will make bad decisions, because no one appears to be looking. We are more susceptible to temptation when we are alone.

Burnout

We are made for community. There is an energy we gain from sharing life with other people. When the leader feels he or she is alone the likelihood of burning out, emotional stress and even depression increases.

Leadership Vacuum

The leader is clueless to the real problems in the organization and is fooled into believing everything (including the leader) is wonderful.

Control Freak

The leader panics when others question him or her. He or she tries to control every decision. They don’t want to be found out for not knowing all the answers.

Limits other people

The leader in isolation fails to communicate, invest, and release, which keeps other leaders from developing on the team. And, therefore, the organization isn’t prepared when the leader does exit. 

Limits leader

The isolated leader never reaches his or her full potential as a leader, because they shut out influences, which would actually help them grow.

Limits the organization

In the end, the leader who leads in isolation keeps the organization from being all it can be. The leader sets the bar of how far an organization can go. If the leader is in isolation the organization will stifle.

Leader, are you living in isolation? Be honest.

Do you need to get out of the protective shell you’ve made for yourself?

The health and future success of your organization depends on it.

(I realize many pastors of smaller churches feel they have no option, but to lead in isolation. You feel you have no one you can truly trust in your church and you have isolated yourself, for various reasons, from others in the community. As hard as it may seem, and as great as the risk may appear, you must find a few people to share your struggles with to avoid these dangers.)

10 Ways To Create More Margin in Your Time

Time is Money

How do you fit more into an already busy schedule?

Isn’t this a great question?

Because, aren’t you being asked to do so all the time? Isn’t your standard reply to the question “how are you?” – BUSY? Aren’t we all?

HOw do you creat more margin in your schedule – to do the things you want to do and the things you need to do?

Here are a 10 tips to help create more time margin:

Start your day with God.

Of course a pastor would say this, but it is amazing if I start the day talking to God about my day how much better my day flows. If I ask God for margin in my time and to help me complete my “to do” list, He actually seems to listen and help me. (Try it!)

Prioritize your life.

It is important to have a life purpose. What do you value most? Without knowing this we find ourselves chasing after many things that have little value. Have you discovered why you are here and what God has most for you in life and in this season of life? If not, start here.

Make sure your priorities line up with your desires.

This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it is not. Many times, we say our purpose is one thing, but what we actually do is something entirely different. This is often because people are going to do what people want to do. We may need to ask God to change our heart and plant in us His desires.

Stop unnecessary time-wasters.

If you “veg” out every night on three plus hours of television or browsing Facebook, don’t be surprised you didn’t get to spend a lot of quality time with your children or friends. Most of us form bad habits or have unorganized methods of doing something that waste bulks of our time. Make a list of what you spend the most time doing and see if there are places you can cut. (I suspect there will be.)

Work smarter.

I can’t imagine being successful and leading a team without some system of calendaring your week or keeping a planner, yet I know so many pastors and other ministers who simply handle things as they come up rather than work with a plan. The benefit of organization is that you can do what you need to do more efficiently and faster and be more productive. Give a shoutout to the checklist people! 

Schedule times to organize.

This is so important, but most people don’t do it. Spending an hour or two actually planning the week will make the whole week more productive. Usually for me this is the first part of my week. If I know where I’m headed and my work space is organized for efficiency, it’s much easier to get everything done and still handle distractions, which are sure to come.

Do the most necessary things first.

You may have tried the A/B/C list of scheduling priorities. It doesn’t matter what system you use, but the important thing is you have one and use it to help your rate of completion. (And, this may be rest, it might be family, or it could be the project you have to complete today.)

Don’t say yes to everything.

Be picky with your time allotment based again on your end priorities and goals.

Schedule down time.

Especially when my boys were younger, I would write on my calendar time for them. This may sound mechanical, but it allows you to be there and keeps things and others from filling up your schedule. (I still schedule this time for Cheryl – and, it sounds counterproductive, but we get away even more frequently during busier seasons.)

Evaluate your schedule often.

Plans should not be implemented and then ignored. Develop your plan to create margin in your life, then periodically review the plan to see how you are doing and what needs to be changed.

For some people just reading this is laborsome. I especially encourage those of you geared this way to push through the difficult part of this and give it a try. You will be surprised what a positive difference it will have on your life.