3 Challenges for the Church Planter

Challenge Defined

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 advise is simply to plant where you land. Seek opportunities that appear to be open doors, 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.

Are these helpful?

What challenges would you offer in church planting?

Breaking News: 75 Year Old Starts Big Bold New Ministry

Old Semitic Man

“The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.


Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.”

Genesis 12:1-4

I know it is naive for a near 50 year old to say this, but I hope God is still calling me to something new when I’m 75.

I hope He continues to call me to walk by faith, stretches my small dreams into big ones, and motivates me to more than I could have ever imagined. I don’t want to miss a moment of what God has for my life.

How about you?

The Pastor’s Spouse: Emotions in Times of Transition

man woman talking 2

When I’m talking to a pastor who has accepted a new position, after I hear the excitement in his voice of what he sees God doing, I almost always ask the same question:

“How is your wife dealing with the change?”

There is usually a pause, followed by an “umm” of some sort, then a statement such as, “She’s doing okay.”

Push a little more (which I usually do) and I’ll hear something like:

It’s been harder on her than I thought it would be.” or, pushing even further, “I don’t understand why she’s not as excited as I am. She agreed this was what God had for us.”

Many times, when the pastor is honest, the transition hasn’t gone as well for the spouse as for the pastor. It will come in time, but for now, she’s not as excited about the change in positions as he is.

Why is that?

I like to encourage pastors to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition. The new pastor has found his center of gravity and purpose. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for hers.

You, the pastor, when you come home at the end of a long day, have something exciting to share every time. Things are moving, changing, challenging you daily. Even on days things aren’t going well…you have drama in your day you can’t wait to share.

Many times, right now, her days look the same.

You come home pumped at what God is doing, so naturally you share your enthusiasm with the one you care to share with the most…your partner in life and ministry.

But, if you’re not conscious of her emotions, depending on her state of mind, she may hear, “My life is exciting. Yours is boring.” Or worse, “My life has meaning. Your life has none.”

Granted, you are not thinking those things and would never want her to think those things, but emotions are high in times of transition. Don’t be surprised if they produce irrational thoughts and actions at times. That’s part of change.

She’s moved from friends and has to learn who to trust again. She is often more relation-centered emotionally, so her heart transitions slower. The roles she held in the church or community haven’t been replaced yet.

You moved forward in your career and passions. Many times hers took a step backward. Or seem to have for now. That will change in time, and she probably knows that intellectually, but emotionally she feels a sense of loss that will take time to replace with a sense of purpose equal to yours.

Granted she is your partner, so she may be excited for you personally as a couple, but remember, she is an individual person, with individual needs for a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

That’s enough encouragement for today. I’ll share more in a future post some thoughts on helping your spouse find her center of gravity and purpose in a time of transition. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, share your stories to help others.

Pastors/Pastor’s spouses, did you have a harder time in a season of transition than your spouse did?

After a great day of teaching…

preacher

Jesus faced the critics…

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58 ESV)

It’s interesting to me when this occurred in the life of Jesus. If you read just prior to this passage, the disciples had finally understood something Jesus taught them. It seems that didn’t happen much in their journey with Jesus. On this occasion, Jesus had just taught them a huge principle. They got it. It was a great day. The best of days. The men He was building into, who would launch the church we know today, understood what was being taught.

That’s a great day for any teacher.

Then the critics came out of the closet.

It never seems to fail. I’ve seen it in ministry, leadership and life. The best days are often followed by the darkest days. Deliver your best message and you’ll shortly afterwards find your harshest critics. Hit the home run and you’ll find some people ready to stop the ballgame.

Don’t be surprised on those days. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t get distracted from what you are called to do.

Those days have value, if you allow them to:

  • They keep us humble.
  • They Keep us learning.
  • They keep us on our knees.
  • They keep the glory shining in the rightful place.
  • They keep us appreciative of the good days.

Are you facing the critics…even during the best of days?

Of course you are…you’re trying to be like Jesus…right?

The Leadership Crisis of Belief

Stressed-man

The leadership crisis of belief.

Every leader faces that point…will this work?

Can I do it? Will they follow? Should I give up? Should I keep going?

The crisis of belief period is real. It’s normal. It’s part of leadership.

In every new venture.

With every bold move.

With every meaningful change.

With every act of faith.

With every major change.

With every new risk.

You will question yourself. You will question your team. You will question the idea, the resources, the outcome.

If it’s a move worth pursuing, you’ll face the crisis of belief. Sometime.

Are you there now?

What you do next will likely determine the outcome!

Praying for you.

You can do it!

Pastor, how are you on Facebook so much?

Social media on Smartphone

I’ve posted a similar answer to this before but in my new role some are asking the question again: Pastor, how are you on Facebook so much?

I honestly think the real question is “Why?” and some think it means I don’t work very much, but if only they knew.

Perhaps, if you follow me online, you wonder the same thing. So, let me try to help you understand.

First things first, I’m probably not on as much as you think I am. If you think so, then the strategy is working. I’ve been doing online ministry since 1996. That’s a long time. I started with a daily devotional that quickly turned into a ministry opportunity. Though they are mostly recycled now, that site is still active. (www.mustardseedministry.com) I learned that if I was going to do ministry with the potentials to reach tens of thousands (the Internet makes the world small), I had to be smart about it.

So, I work smart.

Here are four words to describe my Internet strategy.

Since I’m a pastor, and you’d want me to be pastoral, they all begin with the same letter. :)

Value – I recognize the value of being online. For the past several years, Facebook has been the most prominent way people reach me in my church. It also gives them a sense that they know me. I hear people every week say they feel they can follow me throughout the week, just by reading my status updates. In addition, I have the opportunity to minister to even a larger group, including hundreds of pastors and leaders around the country.

Vision – I have a vision of not only sharing the stuff I write (which I also see as a ministry), but sharing pieces about my life. I’ve learned it makes me seem more real if you see the person behind the thoughts. That’s why you may read something funny, some random thought, even an encouraging word I have for my wife. I want you to know me, so that when I share something serious, you’re more likely to take it serious because you feel you know me and hopefully I’ve become a reliable source. (Just to be clear, I’m capable of being wrong too, and unless I’m posting Scripture itself, it’s an opinion.)

Velocity – Now as for the frequency. There will always be those who think I post too much and those who wish I posted more. If I’m quiet for a couple days, I’ll hear from people who wonder if something is wrong. I’ve learned people depend on a certain amount of frequency. Plus, for those who are only on once or a few times a day, they may miss some of what I post if I don’t post things periodically throughout the day. The pace of doing so is really easy. I usually have my phone with me. If I have  a thought, it takes me only a few seconds to put it out there. You’ll notice I don’t respond to a lot of other comments. I’m usually on and off of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn very quickly. The total time per day is less than it appears. Plus, I can automate many of my posts if I choose to do so. Sometimes I do…sometimes I don’t. I’m not telling which are and which aren’t. :) The key is consistency and I’ve gotten pretty good at that over the years.

InVestment – (How’d you like the clever use of that V?) I have to believe that online communication is making a difference in people’s lives. I can only judge that based on the feedback I receive, and I receive lots. I’ve been overwhelmed at the responses I have gotten throughout my church and the world. I literally get emails every single day from people saying I was there at just the right time or said just the right thing. I’m not taking credit for that, just pointing out that God uses this avenue in ministry for His glory and I’m thankful to play a part.

Well, that’s my story. Why are you online?

If we aren’t connected online, you can find me here:

Twitter: @RonEdmondson
Facebook personal: RonaldEdmondson
Facebook Page: RonAEdmondson
Instagram: RonEdmondson
LinkedIn: Ron Edmondson

7 Words of Wisdom for Church Planters and Leaders

St John Church

I was meeting with a potential church planter recently and some of the words of wisdom spoken to me over the years flooded my mind. 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 people God sent you to minister to – Obviously, we work for the approval of God, not man, but all of us need assurance at times from other people that 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. Most likely God didn’t call you to plant so you could reach people who already love their church. He sent you to reach hurting, broken people. My guess is they are happy with your efforts. (I wrote about this principle HERE.)

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 that’s 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. By the way, this seemed to take pressure off finding the exact right spot. If I “miss it”, God will still use me.

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.

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 – I wrote about this HERE, but 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.

God stirs the nest – Deuteronomy references God and the eagle stirring its nest. I’ve been told (and read) that eagles build their nest with the roughest products they can find. Then they cover that 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”.

Build DNA slowly – Once DNA is set, it’s going to be very hard to change it. 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 to that point.

Any church planters (or church leaders) out there? What would you add?

The Blindness of Ministry

Day planner & pen

Recently I came across a journal entry from January, 2005. I talked about some of the goals I had for the year and my progress and lack thereof towards meeting them. I shared some current frustrations I was having in ministry. I then asked God to help me be more disciplined.

Then I read the last sentence of that day’s journal. I wrote, “God, at 41, some days it feels that I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Wow!

Looking back at my life now, I’m sure it was a one day “pity party” (Yes, even pastors have those), because that was during a season when eleven core families were meeting regularly in our living room, preparing to launch a church. That would be our second plant, and this one would go on to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country and is still accomplishing more now than we ever dreamed possible.

I don’t share that to bring attention to myself. And, it’s not so much that a church needs to grow at that pace. God may use you in completely different ways than He has used me. It may be with one person, a thousand people, or millions. God has a unique plan for every person’s life. I share it because it points to an important principle in ministry that’s true for all of us.

We seldom see the good God is doing through us as we are doing it.

That keeps us humble.
That keeps us in prayer.
That keeps us desperate for His hand to be upon us.

Are you in the middle of a stressful season of ministry or life? Are you wondering if any of your efforts are making a difference?

If so, and if you are being obedient to God’s will as much as you know how, then stand firm.

Don’t give up! Stay tuned!

God is up to things you can’t even imagine.

God is using you Mighty Warrior! (Judges 6:12)

And, I’m praying He allows you to see some fruit from your labor as you continue to trust Him.

A Dozen Things I Learned Last Year

two elementary school students looking at globe

I strive to be a continual learner. I learned a few things last year.

Here are 12 of them:

Small things matter most in making change.

Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in one. Who knew? Changed my gym shower life. (Apparently my wife and boys did but they never let me in on the fun!)

A conference room table can also be used as an ironing board.

Certain neckties interfere with our television broadcasts. (This year we are looking to upgrade our system.) For now, it is a good excuse not to wear a tie, right?

Some people aren’t upset with you. They are upset with their life…or others…and you just happen to be in the way of expressing their frustration and discontent.

Transitioning to a new city happens faster when you’re intentional. And one way to do that is to learn all the hamburger joints. Another is to intentionally network with people…especially people who will connect you to other people.

Resistance to change is relative. Everyone struggles with it at some level. It’s just a matter of how we react to it and how it impacts us that determines our response.

Having done both, I have to say, church planting, in many ways, is easier than church revitalization…and more difficult in other ways. But both are needed.

Losing a beloved pet as an adult may be harder even than as a child.

Lexington, KY is one of the friendliest cities we’ve ever experienced. It would make a great, inexpensive, family weekend vacation spot.

Trust doesn’t come with position or title. It comes with time and experience. Yet gaining trust may be one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader.

People transfer emotional baggage and injury to other people and other situations, who had nothing to do with creating the emotional pain. It is unfair to the innocent recipients, but very true.

What did you learn last year?

An Organizational Growth Cap Theory

When I consider companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon, the one constant I think of is change. Interestingly, after I typed that first sentence, I Googled “Most Innovative Companies” and found Fast’s list for 2012. How close do you think I got to their list? See for yourself HERE. But, don’t be impressed with my guesswork. You could have done the same thing, because it’s obvious to us that these companies are all about change.

Then I think of churches I know…some of the most growing, Kingdom-impacting churches I know are also the most innovative…the most open to continual change. I think of LifeChurch.tv, for example. Not only have they impacted many with their vision for multi-site/video venues, but they’ve also helped us discover or been a part of YouVersion and Open, a resource website for churches and ministries. I also think of Andy Stanley’s North Point and how their version of doing church and Andy’s preaching style has impacted so many others. Both LifeChurch and North Point appear to be a culture of change. From what I read about their culture, change is continually being introduced.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that either of the church models is the right one for every church. Neither are they the exact right model for the church I pastor. I am interested in church growth. I do like to see progress. I do want to avoid capping Kingdom growth.

I am suggesting that there may be something about growth we can learn from the two examples…business and church. My personal experience, and watching other organizations succeed, has led me to believe that there is something about continual change that produces continual growth.

In fact, I wonder if:

The level of growth an organization can experience may be determined by its level of tolerance or resistance to change.

I’m still processing that thought.

What do you think?