Church planting is gutsy. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here, but church planting is not for the faint of heart. But what’s interesting is how easily the heart of a church planter can grow faint as the planting process unfolds, the church becomes established and the tattoos begin to fade away with every passing craft beer guzzled down at the hymn night started at the local brewery.
Look, the Bible encourages us to be courageous. The Lord told Joshua to be strong and courageous as he prepared to lead the nation of Israel after the death of Moses. David encouraged his son Solomon to be strong and courageous because God would be with him. The Lord told Paul to take courage when he gave testimony about Him in Rome. Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to be of good courage until they were united someday with God in glory.
Part of being courageous is being bold, and boldness is one of the necessary ingredients for every church planter, without exception. Interestingly, most of us typically start out abounding in bravery. That’s a good thing because on paper, what we’re embarking on is sheer lunacy. Consider the following:
- It’s a coo-coo for cocoa puffs thing to have to gather a core group of men and women to follow you into the great unknown as their fearless…and I mean fearful…leader. Who goes around asking people to FOLLOW THEM, after all??
- It takes a preposterous amount of guts to cast a vision (again, who uses the word VISION in normal conversation?) to people you’re already worried think you sound like a cult leader.
- It verges on insanity to have to cheerfully convince your wife that even though there’s no money, no health insurance and no people, you believe God is still leading you (and…umm…her) to plant this church. Yippee.
- It takes the nerve of a kitten in a doghouse to launch a church service with forty people, confidently proclaiming to the world “Hey mom, look, we’re churching!”
All of these are bold, courageous moves that the Holy Spirit equips us for when God is establishing a new church through us in the community He’s led us to. So, if this is the mode you’re in, stay bold, ponyboy. Not boisterous, but courageous. Not cocky, but confident, knowing that God is responsible for His people, His money, His metrics, His building, His vision casting and all the rest. Don’t think for a minute that you have the power to thwart something that God decided to do before He decided to share the idea with you.
Keep God sovereign.
But here’s what I’m more concerned about and the reason I’m starting my opening chapter for Church Plant Chronicles on courage. Do you still have it? What I mean is: I think it’s easy for us in the beginning, when things are desperate, to move forward like Luther with the hammer, nails and theses in hand, ready to build a new wall all Nehemiah style. Planting is punk rock. It’s anti at it’s core. To begin something new always is. It’s making the wild proclamation, “Whatever is here is not good enough!” You’re not planting in the town you’re in because you don’t think the town you’re in doesn’t need planting, after all.
But what happens after things become more established? You have a little dough in the bank, some people in the pews (I mean folding chairs, obviously), competent volunteers, trained community group leaders, faithful elders, some good gossip in the community and a nice space locked down? Has your courage meter dropped now that those things are finally rocking? Why do I ask? Because this is me right now. All those things I just mentioned have happened to me in the past couple of years, and one day not that long ago I realized that maybe I’d lost some of my guts. How so?
Because things are different now. By God’s grace, we actually planted a church, and after that happened, my job description began to change. There’s membership, congregational meetings, elder meetings, counseling appointments, sermon prep, leadership development, theology classes, and a myriad of other activities that can now be filed under “the things I do.” No complaints. But it’s all because we have people now. People who have opinions about what we do and why we do them. People who ask questions about things that we can’t keep answering with the line “you know, we’re still trying to figure that one out because we’re new”. People who give of their time, talent and treasure, and need to be shepherded, cared for and taught how to do all three to the glory of God.
And all of these responsibilities have taken a stab at my courage. Sometimes I’m afraid to make people angry. Sometimes I’m afraid to push too hard. Sometimes I’m afraid to confront. Sometimes I’m too intimidated to engage. I want to actually keep people at my church, not keep them away!
Proverbs 29:25 says “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
The question I found myself faced with was, “Is my church actually a true church or does it simply look like one?” Did we just build a nice shell, a hipster abode of reclaimed barn wood, beards and casual attire? Had I forgotten about this thing called “trust”?
I concluded that yes, God had established a true church, but I realized I had to truly repent of my lack of courage, because it had turned into disobedience. I had fallen into a pattern of believing I had something to lose even though I hadn’t been responsible for any of the gain.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
God will build His church, Hell will not prevail, and it’s good for us to remember that our lives are part of that building process. Our calling is to serve, not sell. To be men of faith, not fear. Keep your courage, men! God has given you a reserve of it from His word to draw from.