The Secret of Church Planting (Part 1)

Before I graduated from seminary, I knew I wanted to plant a church.  I wasn’t just called to it.  I wanted it.  When they finally set me free to live my dream and ambition, I set off like a person on fire.  I had such vision!  I knew exactly what to do, who to call, what to order, how to organize.  I was remarkably busy and happy … right up through the end of the first month.

And then I came up for air, for just a moment, and turned and looked at my husband, who said, “I am afraid you love this work more than you love me.” My precious, sweet husband, who I love more than my own life felt very quickly into this venture as if I might abandon him for the sake of the work.  It was a sobering moment.

“I’m afraid you love your work more than you love me.”  It was my husband who said it, but it might just as well have been God.  In my quest to build something great, I’d also left God to the side.  That was the beginning of a long, hard slide downhill.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t slow down.  I just tried harder.  I stopped talking so much about the church at home, thinking that would help things, but it is almost as if I was trying to plant a church without anyone noticing it.  I’d wait until my family got out the door in the morning, then I’d set about doing everything you are supposed to do, plus some.  I knocked on doors, handed out fliers, bulk-mailed, called everyone I knew then called everyone they knew.  And at the end of four months, I had generated exactly one very unhappy family and five people vaguely interested in this new church.  I felt like a failure.  I have never been one to let depression slow me down, but there were days that first year when I couldn’t get out of bed.

It caused me to question everything — my passions, my intelligence, my call, even God’s faithfulness.  I found myself right back in an old familiar place, praying as I did in school when facing exams I was poorly prepared for:  “Lord, I’ll do anything.  Just get me out of this.”  I can say now that the Lord was there and responded faithfully.  But I was so down this time I couldn’t hear it.  The only thing I knew for sure was that I was not spiritually in shape for this work.

I give God thanks for the kindness of a fellow minister who saw me through that time with one very simple word of truth.  She was an Episcopal priest and church planter in my community.  She told me that she’d gone to church planter’s boot camp right at the beginning of her assignment several years ago.  When she went, she was just on the verge of getting started and so excited about the work, just as I’d been when all those wonderful ideas were still in their pristine, idealistic state.

She described the day she walking into boot camp.  She remembered it as a roomful of egos, pastors all equally sure they had the right equation for God’s True Church.  Everyone settled into chairs, and the leader came out and stood among them. The first thing he said was this, “You are here, because this is the only option God had left to get your attention.”

I heard that from my friend, and I knew that word was for me, too.  I’d heard God in seminary, but when I got out, I’d done the old “I’ll take it from here, God” routine.  I got so interested in the work of ministry, the importance of appearances and the competitiveness of it; and before I knew it the Holy Spirit was in a box on the shelf and my quiet times were non-existent.

There was no Sabbath … just the work.

But with that word of grace from a fellow pastor, God got my attention again, and made a very important point (again) that the externals are not as important as the internals.  Perhaps out of sheer desperation, I decided to submit to that point, again.  I surrendered again to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.  As I gave God my mornings again, he became Lord over my days again.  I decided again to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.  Since that time, I’ve done my best to reserve the time from 6:00 Friday until 6:00 Saturday.   I give that time to whatever God and I choose to do.  Years later, I still have difficulty relaxing, and I confess that often I don’t accomplish the good work of Sabbath rest.  But I’m trying.  I’m trying.

As for God’s part, he restored my joy and my passion for this new work.  My husband and I love each other and my daughter has grown up with a healthy view of “church” and God’s people. Through the gift of church planting, I have discovered this truth:  ministry is a spiritual exercise, not a performance.  It is an act of obedience, not a head-count.

Has it occurred to you yet, planters, that maybe you are not planting because God needs one more church?  Has it occurred to you that maybe you are not in this because God needs one more very busy person to take on one more project?  It may even be possible that God has not tapped you or me because either of us is particularly gifted or anointed.  Maybe the Lord has us here in the midst of this mighty calling because this is the only way he could get our attention.

Church planting is about so much more than the work.  O Lord, write that wisdom on our hearts.  Christ in us is our only hope of glory!

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