A beautiful thing has happened over the past ten years. Church planting has grown in popularity, with more individuals and churches fulfilling the Great Commission by starting new churches. This is biblical, and this is great. However, with the increased interest in church planting, many unqualified men have planted churches for the wrong reasons (see Five Church Planting Dangers).
As a reaction to unqualified men wrecking themselves and their families via church planting, networks and churches have strengthened their assessment processes of the men they send. Praise God! On the other hand though, I hear more pastors talking about the need to de-romanticize church planting for aspiring church planters. With the best of intentions, pastors and planters cut through the roses and rainbows to give a realistic picture of the struggles and sufferings of church planting.
I get it. If aspiring church planters lack something, it’s often sobriety. Church planting takes a lot of ambition and a decent amount of crazy. But, in our de-romanticization of church planting, do we focus so much on the pain that we neglect to speak of the joy? Are we taking the romance out of the greatest romance of all time between Christ and His Church? This would be like trying to de-romanticize marriage for a young, idealistic man by focusing on how hard marriage is without any attention to the joys.
A better way to serve aspiring church planters is to acknowledge the difficulties of church planting while also inspiring a greater love for the church. We don’t need to de-romanticize church planting. We need to give men a romance they are willing to die for, because church planting is worthy of our lives and love!
With that said, let me share the four most joyful experiences I’ve had as a church planter:
1) You get to see God make something out of nothing
Every church planting story is different yet the same. There was no church, then there is a church.
Paul speaks of his desire for church planting in Romans 15:20-21: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”
There is no greater joy than to preach the gospel into the lost and forgotten corners of our cities, and to see those who gave up on Jesus and His church now giving everything for Him and His church.
You might be asking, What about when the church doesn’t grow? What about when nothing stays nothing rather than becoming something, and I feel like a failure?
Paul’s ambition was to preach the gospel. Faithfully put your hand to that plow, cultivate the ground of your city, sow seeds of the gospel, work hard, and trust God with the results. God uses the work of cultivation by the gospel-centered church plant that never gets off the ground just as much as He uses the work of reaping by the gospel-centered church plant that firmly establishes itself. The death of your church plant might, in God’s sovereignty, lead to the birth of another.
2) You get a front row seat in watching people change
The gospel changes lives, and being a part of that change is an inexpressible joy. The folks in your church plant actually become your joy.
Paul, the experienced church planter, understood this. He says in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
But, what about when people don’t change? What about when people hurt you or sin against you, and you become cynical?
Change is never as fast in ourselves or others as we want. Yet God’s Word makes it clear that what Jesus starts, He finishes (Phil 1:6). When you get frustrated at the lack of change in people’s lives, remember that’s why they need a pastor. People aren’t a distraction from your ministry, they are your ministry. Love them, point them to Jesus, and cling to the promises of God.
3) You get to serve others and find yourself
The great commandment is to love God with all that’s in you and to, “…love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). Church planting gives you abundant opportunities to sacrificially and selflessly love God and others. In doing so, you get to know yourself better. Now, I’m not talking about your selfish, sinful self; I’m talking about getting to know your sanctified, Savior-like self.
Every church planting win or loss becomes an opportunity to learn your strengths and weaknesses. And each of these moments of self-discovery pushes you beyond yourself to the grace of God in your life, either in thankfulness for the gift of your strengths or in dependence on His grace in your weakness.
This joy – to feel more comfortable in your own skin as you are conformed into the image of Christ – is obtained not as you seek self-discovery, but as you lay down your life in service for Jesus and others. In losing your life, you actually find it (Mt 16:25).
4) You get to share in the sufferings of Christ
Church planters will suffer. Finances won’t come. Dedicated team members will leave. Close friends will stab you in the back. The mission won’t budge no matter how hard you push. Your health will fail. People will die. All of this, and so much more, is part of the job description.
However, what others intend for evil, our amazing and good God intends for good (Gn 50:20; Rom 8:28). Ministry becomes the crucible by which God brings you to the end of yourself and delivers you into lasting joy. Consider these passages from Paul, who knew a thing or two about suffering:
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:8-11 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. – 2 Corinthians 1:5-6
Your suffering isn’t pointless. It is for the sake of Jesus (2 Cor 4:11). Your suffering is for your own sake, because you will also share in Christ’s comfort and resurrection (2 Cor 1:5-6). Your suffering is for the sake of others as you are able to better model how to suffer well and to comfort others with the comfort you’ve received (2 Cor 1:3-7). And your suffering trains you to long for an eternal life beyond this temporary one (2 Cor 4:17).
God wants to use your suffering for His Kingdom. This is nothing new. What He asks of you He first asked of His Son, Jesus. Suffer well, and find your joy in the God of all comfort!
When planting a church, it’s tempting to feel like we’re working for Jesus. But the truth is we’re working with Jesus. There’s a reason it’s called the Great Co-mission. Jesus will never leave you or forsake you in your church planting journey, and He is your greatest joy (Mt 28:19-20).
So to all you aspiring church planters, church planting will be one of the hardest things you ever do, but it will also be one of the most rewarding. You will bleed, and you will not come out on the other side the same. But it’s worth it, because Jesus and His church are worth it. We all give our lives to something. Why not give your life to the greatest romance of them all?