For anyone, anywhere who is thinking about starting a church… think long and think hard.
Nine years ago, I moved with my family to start a church in Ashland, Nebraska. A small town, that had very little to do with my life, and very little that appealed to to my lifestyle values. All I knew is that I wanted to see what church planting was all about. In this case, I wouldn’t be in charge, I would have very little at stake, and could skate by with little emotional investment. I went in telling myself and anyone who would listen,
“This really isn’t my thing… I will never be a church planter.”
Fast forward 3 years, and it was in this context I would receive my clear calling to lead a church start in Omaha, Nebraska. My experience with the people in Ashland, was hard, but God used them to solidify a vision, and break me, so He could then use me.
Through all the ups and downs of church planting, my sense of clarity of calling has only become stronger, and I can honestly say today that I don’t want to be doing anything else.
Is that because everything has always gone my way? The way I expected it to? The way I planned it? HA! not even close. It is because I have experienced the goodness of following Jesus into the adventure that is building His kingdom and I, will never be the same.
With all the amazing things I have experienced and the incredible confidence I have in the the reality of what God has led me into, the past 5 years have revealed many things about the church planting process no one told me going in.
Going in, I never knew I would have to do the job of at least three full time staff people at any established church, plus serve coffee to ungrateful strangers just to keep our newly blooming church afloat. I never knew I would preach 50 sermons a year for 3 years, knowing that each one would probably be about as unpolished as the last. I never knew I would fall so deeply in love with a vision that it would become a part of me like little else ever has.
With all the things I have learned in the past 5 years, there is one painful lesson I never wanted to learn, and still to this day struggle to understand.
When you choose to lean into a radical vision, and accept God’s call to love others into that vision, you will undoubtedly feel incredibly lonely at many different stages along the way.
This past year has taught me a lesson I never wanted to learn. That lesson…
People mean a lot more to me, than I mean to them.
When you start a church, and pray for for countless hours, give your life to its calling and to the people who you have gathered around that vision, you will one day feel the reality that the people you have grown to love, don’t love you, nearly as much as you love them. The people God brings you, will mean a lot more to you, than you mean to them. And that, my friends, Is a tough reality to face.
I recently experienced this in an incredibly vivid way and find myself still reeling from its impact on my family. When you experience this incredibly isolating reality, you will want to quit, you will want to run away, you will want to scream into your pillow and at the same time fall to your knees.
When people you have fallen in love with, and grown to depend upon don’t seem to reciprocate the same kind of relational value, the foundations of your life are shaken and your calling is challenged all over again.
This is the life of a church planter… for better or worse.
So… my advice, if you have made it this far into my ramblings…
If you are part of a newly established church… love your leaders… give your lives to them… recognize the level of emotional investment they have made in you and in the vision, and be careful with their hearts. They are much more fragile than you might think.
If you are thinking about starting a church… prepare your heart for the pain of being misunderstood… it will become your companion.
For all the pain, hardship and struggle, I have never for one second questioned what God has called me into, and I am thankful for the struggle as it draws me deeper into the arms of the only one who can satisfy me… my savior, the God man, Jesus.