Do you want to know who was the most challenging person on our church plant team? I was. By far.
Sure, there were really sweet moments. There were positive things happening, but mostly it was a difficult time for me.
Geno, my husband, and I had prepared well for church planting. We attended trainings, took assessments, led and multiplied small groups, served in various capacities at our sending church, visited church plants, and hosted vision-casting meetings.
Then, we headed out with our two-year plan and the blessing and financial resources from our amazing sending church.
We were finally doing what we had spent years preparing to do! We started meeting on Sunday nights in an old church basement, a space we rented after the line dancers were done for the night. We hosted parties and met people for coffee. We volunteered at community events and passed out postcards. We turned “It’s a beautiful day” comments into conversations about our church.
Wonderful, amazing things started happening. People were connecting and Jesus was building his church. Through it all, I loved Jesus and saw him at work in my life and in the lives of the people around me. But I didn’t love, or even like, church planting.
After two years, I was exhausted by the meetings, parties, small groups, and events. The bi-vocational life was running me ragged. Plus, we were growing our family. One baby turned into two babies and then three (and now four).
But it wasn’t just about the church planting pace.
It felt hard because I was trying to play a role I was not designed to play. I was sitting in the wrong seat. So, everything felt hard.
My husband was made for church planting and pastoring. He’s good at preaching, leading, sitting with people in crisis, and dealing with the tough stuff. He comes alive in these settings.
I realized God didn’t make me the same as him. Our two-year plan, in which Geno and I were co-leading, preaching an equal number of weeks, both communicating with our leaders and casting vision, and sharing the leadership responsibilities, wasn’t working for us.
Let me just say, there are a number of things church planters just have to do. An expectation of hard work should be thoroughly built into a church planter’s game plan. There is a rhythm to this life of ministry that includes things we may not enjoy. But this was not that. This was me feeling like most church-related events and conversations were sucking the life out of me.
I stopped trying to fit into a mold and I started asking God to show me how he wanted to use me.
So, I let go of the original plan. I stopped trying to fit into a mold and I started asking God to show me how he wanted to use me.
My skill set is very different from Geno’s. If I was going to make it, I had to stop trying to fit into ministry in the same way he was. Geno was going to focus on leading the church. I would still be an active, important part, but leading the church wasn’t, and still isn’t, my number one passion. One day, it may be. Just not today.
I started to pay attention to what gave me energy. I began to see where God was using me in my secular job to extend the kingdom of God.
In letting go of this idea of what I thought my role should be in the church planting process, I found peace and rest for my exhausted soul.
Geno and I lead better together in this new scenario. We are co-pastors but we don’t share tasks 50/50. As I operate in my gifts, I have found I have more energy for serving our church. I preach occasionally, lead small groups, and oversee various aspects of the church. Geno dreams about church logistics and stays up late planning out preaching series schedules and all the other things that give him life.
In November, we’ll celebrate our 10 year anniversary as a church. It has been a journey of listening to God’s voice as he reminds me he will build his church and my assignment is to use the unique gifts and talents he has given me to be a part of that process.
My role in our church looks very different from what I imagined it would look like and that is the most wonderful and perfect surprise. I love my church. I love the people and I love what Jesus is doing in this space and it gives me life.
Read more of Shannon and Geno's Story
Download the What Vineyard Church Planting Looks Like eBook
Shannon Olison and her husband Geno moved to the Homewood-Flossmoor area from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in June of 2009 to start the South Suburban Vineyard, a multicultural church in the south suburbs of Chicago. Since that time, they, along with a fabulous team of individuals have been building a church from the ground up. This means having a lot of fun, working hard and seeing lives changed, including their own. They have seen the church grow from meetings of 15 people to small groups to a Sunday morning church service. Shannon and Geno have four sons, Joseph, Elijah, Joshua, and Ezekiel.