In 1986, my parents sold their home, packed four kids under nine years old into a station wagon, and drove 12 hours across state lines to plant a church. There was no launch team and certainly no financial support. We rented a small hall, put a notice in the local paper, set up some chairs, and prayed God would send people to our church. And he did!
Just not the people we thought he would send.
My father was a school principal and my mother was a teacher before they sensed a call to ministry. They naturally assumed they would have a church full of working professionals. Very quickly, they discovered their young church was attracting people with addiction issues and mental illness, single moms and surfers.
I remember my mother putting her head into her hands one night, feeling woefully inadequate as she struggled to relate to the people who called her their pastor.
23 years later, I faced the same dilemma as a Vineyard church planter. I had written a five-year plan with a target audience I thought I was called to reach, only to realize quickly that we don’t actually get to choose who we pastor.
As pastors, we find ourselves in the tension of the church community we want to have and the reality of the church family God gives us. In the same way parents have to let go of what they imagine their child to be in order to fully embrace and parent their actual child, pastors need to do the same with their congregations.
Church planting is busy work. It involves securing a location, writing a vision statement, meeting with potential launch team members, designing a website, planning your first sermon series, and doing community outreach – and that’s just to name a few of the tasks. All of these things require effort and momentum from you, the planter. It’s easy to believe we can, by sheer force of our will, attract the kind of people we want to pastor into our church.
The truth is, we can control many things about our church, but we can’t control who comes through the doors or who ultimately stays. We don’t get to choose who we pastor, they choose us. I believe that is the way God intended it to be.
When we say yes to the call of pastoring, we are saying yes to the kingdom of God, not to a kingdom of our own making. The kingdom of God welcomes all into its fold, not just those who you think you naturally connect with or want to lead.
The church you will end up pastoring will look vastly different than the church you imagined in the early days of planting. Your longevity as a pastor depends largely on not only accepting that reality, but embracing it.
I thought I would have a church full of revivalists and prayer warriors, but I ended up with a lot of wounded souls in need of restoration and healing. I thought I would be Joan of Arc leading my church into battle for our city, but I ended up tending the spiritual scars of many people who didn’t quite fit the traditional evangelical mold and found themselves adrift.
If you trust God is guiding your steps, then you must trust he is bringing you the people that you can best care for. Letting go of your idea of what you think your church will be can be scary, but I can honestly say the church I have now, 11 years in, is far more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.
That invitation to fall in love with the church you actually have, rather than the one you imagined, will be a daily surrender, but one I believe can bring true freedom to your soul.
May we all seek to understand what the Father is doing in the very real hearts of the very real people who we will have the privilege of pastoring. May we find the gold in the church we actually have, instead of comparing to the one we wished we had.
Melanie is a main session speaker at our upcoming Multiply Vineyard Summit. Hear more of her story, be reinspired for church multiplication, and get practical tools for your next steps at this virtual conference happening February 4 & 5. Learn more at mvsummit.org.
About the Author
Melanie Forsythe is the Lead Pastor of LIFE vineyard church, a vibrant faith community in the heart of Columbus, Ohio. She came to faith in the post Christian landscape of Australia. There, Melanie was a youth pastor for many years before moving to America alongside her now late husband and co-founder of LIFE vineyard.
In spite of the unexpected loss of her husband in late 2018, Melanie is unapologetically in love with the Gospel, and full of hope and vision for the future of the local church. Her Selah conference, held annually in Columbus reaches women from all walks of life, calling them to lives of authentic devotion to Jesus.
Multiply Vineyard Summit: Now & Next - February 4 & 5
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