I’ve often thought about our first year of church planting and wondered what I would do differently if I could go back.
So, imagine with me that Dr. Who shows up in his Tardis and says, “Rusty, let’s travel through time and space so that you can tell your younger self what to do differently your first year of church planting.”
(Of course, we all know that Dr. Who would never say this to me because it would be a time paradox to meet my younger self, but seriously people we’re just imagining here.)
Next thing you know, I’ve jumped in the Tardis, and here’s what I would say to first year, church planter Rusty.
1) “Date Your Wife More”
One of my prayers before planting and even to this day is, “Lord, no matter what happens with this church plant let my wife and children know how loved they are by you and me.”
I’ve always considered my family my first ministry, yet that first year was stressful. And sadly, I let the stress effect my time with my wife. Stress about money meant we wouldn’t go out as often. Stress about people (or the lack thereof) meant I would be too consumed with thinking about the church plant.
An overall feeling of needing to be omnipresent for others meant I would often struggle to be present with her. It’s funny because there’s only one Person I know who is omni-present, and it’s not me.
Here’s what I’ve learned that I wish I knew then:
- Put as much vision and energy into pursuing my wife as the church plant. While working hard and providing for your family are certainly good, our wives need to see us be as creative, energetic & committed to them as we are the church. The church already has an awesome husband named Jesus; we don’t need to be married to ministry to the extent that we leave our actual wife out. Love your wife like Christ loves the church by pursuing her, especially when you’re exhausted from church planting (Eph 5:25). It’s good for her, and it’s good for you too.
- Turn off the phone. You’re really not that important. Trust Jesus; turn it off. It’s not healthy for you or anybody to be available all the time. If people struggle with that, then help them through it but don’t stop turning your phone off. Your wife will appreciate your undivided attention, and you’ll be forced to put your trust into action.In our family, we call dinner time and date nights Safe Zone. No phones, no distractions, just each other.
- Make it happen. There will always be a reason not to connect weekly with your spouse, and we must get creative to make it happen. Disciple a couple in your church and ask them for free babysitting in return. Get on a rotation with other parents to have a regularly night to yourselves. Do whatever you have to break up the norm and be reminded that your church plant isn’t the center of the universe.
You’ll never finish your first year and say, “I wish I dated my wife less.”
2) “Pray More”
The frenetic nature of year one led me personally to get busy doing without a lot of praying. Now, don’t get me wrong, I prayed a lot. It was just always on the go. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time sitting still with Jesus in prayer.
Here’s the power of prayer that I wish I believed then:
- Prayer changes things, opening doors and hearts (Col 4:3). Work hard, but remember that Jesus builds His church (Mt 16:18).
- Prayer changes me, bringing peace and thankfulness (Phil 4:6-7). One of my prayers that first year and even to this day has been, “Lord, don’t let me wish this season away, but enjoy it for all it’s worth.”
Although I still feel like I’m in kindergarten in the school of prayer, spending time with Jesus really has become my bread and butter. When I make time to be with Him, I’m much less reactive and much more content. To put it bluntly, I’m easier to be around.
You’ll never finish your first year and say, “I wish I prayed less.”
3) “Get A Resident Historian.”
A wise women in our church told me year one write down everything God does in our church plant. Put that under the-great-advice-I-never-followed-through-with category.
Unless you love journaling, you probably won’t record your church plant history even though you should.
If I could go back here’s what I would do:
As early as possible, I would give someone the task of being our resident historian to constantly take photos and record milestones for our church.
Too much happens in a church plant to remember it all, and having this kind of intentionality would massively help on at least two fronts:
- Writing those monthly updates would be a lot less painful. I can’t tell you how many months I spent way too much time trying to remember everything that happened and trying to find photos for monthly updates for external supporters. Could you imagine sitting down with a folder full of pictures and info to share? Enough said.
- Creating a culture of celebration would be a lot easier. The more you’re seeing the story of God’s grace unfold before your eyes, the more you’re able to celebrate with a thankful heart — both personally and corporately. That kind of constant celebration empowers others to celebrate too and it changes you. Let’s be honest, church planters can be grumpy and whiny. We need less comparison of the things we don’t have and more celebration of the things we do.
You’ll never finish year one saying, “I wish I celebrated less.”
Still Waiting For The Tardis
The fact is there are no time machines, and we can’t go back to redo our mistakes.
But what we can do is learn from our mistakes, pass along wisdom learned, give God all the glory and remember that His amazing grace works all things together for good (Rom 8:28).