A little over a year ago, my wife Betsy and I began a year-long process of leaving our home church to plant a new Vineyard church in a neighboring suburb. That year covered the period of time between, "we know God's calling us to plant a church” to the send-off with our team. We had been on staff for 20 years in various roles and preparing to plant was a pretty wild ride spiritually and emotionally.
Over time, we felt the reality of how difficult church planting is. It’s difficult for sending churches and it’s difficult for planters. But, there are a few things that really helped us transition well.
The church is God's. All of it.
Build your team with the utmost care.
The church is God's. All of it. I know this seems pretty straight forward, but it's so important to remember, especially if you've been at your home church for a longer amount of time.
Depending on your role, you might have to dial back your influence when it comes to gathering a team to make sure you only bring those God is calling to go. This is probably the opposite of what you'll want to do, but it's what's best for God's church, both the plant and the home church. You want the team God has assigned, not the one you dream up.
Ask potential team members hard questions about calling and use your discernment to help folks determine God's best for them, even if the best is for them to stay where they are.
If they come because of you, you will have to keep them happy when things get tough. I don't know any pastor who wants that job.
Champion good communication during hard conversations.
It probably goes without saying, but the enemy hates church planting. That means there is usually quite a bit of spiritual warfare around the planting process. Misunderstandings, assumptions, and unspoken expectations are all areas where the enemy can take something small and poke at it until it becomes something big.
Good communication is an easy way to close down some of those attacks. Good communication happens when both parties have heard and understood the heart of the other party.
We had more hard conversations in the past year than at any other time in our lives. We’ve talked about money, the division of responsibilities, areas where we've been hurt, and areas where we've caused hurt. The better we navigate those conversations, the better we will leave our home churches.
The better we navigate those conversations, the better we will leave our home churches.
Don't lose the forest for the trees.
There will be personal losses and pain for both churches for the sake of God’s mission. Betsy and I often found ourselves asking the question, “How can something so good be so difficult and painful?”
One of our mentors, Brenda Gatlin, answered the question in a conversation we had 6 months before being sent out. She said, “This is what it looks like to go to the cross with Jesus”.
There are parts of the church planting process that can feel a lot like going to the cross. In those moments, we can do one of two things; we can squirm and blame and try to mitigate or we can pick up our cross and follow Jesus. If you want to leave your church better than you found it, embrace the hard parts.
This is where Betsy and I found our church planting coaches invaluable. They gave us a place to process, mourn, and share openly about the difficulties we were facing. They would listen and offer wisdom and then they would always bring us back to why we’re doing this in the first place.
For me, the "why" is represented in an encounter I had with a Russian teen named Dimitri while sledding. He was alone at the sledding hill and after several glances our way, he slowly began to migrate over towards us. When we realized what was happening, we invited him to come over and join us. Over the next 10 minutes, he shared openly about his hopes and dreams of being an NBA player one day. He was just a lonely teen drawn to a couple of dads out sledding with their kids. We’re doing this because God loves Dimitri. He loves Dimitri's family and Dimitri's neighbors and Dimitri's peers. We do this because God loves people.
He loves them so much he might just put a wild dream in the hearts and minds of a few families to leave their homes and go start a new church.
Are You Called To Be A Church Planter?
Reflect on these 10 questions to help discern your calling.
Jason and his wife Betsy co-pastor the Streamwood Vineyard Church in Streamwood IL. They have 6 children through birth and adoption and spend most of their free time cooking lots of food and fixing broken stuff. In his spare time, Jason does some professional photography and some pretty bad woodworking.