Almost a year ago, my wife and I decided to follow the Lord's call to go out from our beloved church to help plant a new church in our city. It wasn't an easy decision, but it wasn't all that difficult either - it was the Lord's call, and he gives so much grace. As time has passed, we have grown increasingly thankful for the Lord's leading and for his grace in establishing this young church.Here are a few things I've learned in the process (this isn't my first church plant, but each has something new to teach me. Also, this list is not in any particular order of importance, just thoughts as they came to me.)
You Have to Take Risks:
Leaving an established church to plant a new church is, in itself, a risky move. But that's just the start of it. One of the reasons I think church plants make such an impact on the community is because of the risks they are willing to take. Church plants don't have any people so they love outsiders. Church plants don't have any money so they ask bold things from poor millennials. Church plants don't have any traditions so doing things is easy, though not without much prayer and wisdom. Church plants don't know what they're doing - even if they've done it before. Everything is new, everything is possible, everything is risky. Taking risks for the sake of the gospel is the way church plants survive. And it's one of the hardest things for most people to do.
You Have to Be Flexible:
We are preaching our way through the book of Acts at Refuge Church. And in so doing, we are finding that one trait the Holy Spirit creates in his people is flexibility. We need it. Not only to survive the call of God, but also to survive one another. We are figuring this thing out. Nothing is written in stone. We are moving in and out of places all the time, searching for our long-term home. We are trying things to see what works. We are praying for as many conversions as the Lord will grant. We have people from different backgrounds and different church philosophies. We have need for much flexibility, and that's hard to do. But it is essential.
Leaders Must Lead:
If that isn't an obvious point, I don't know what is. But I also have seen the importance of good leadership. The planter and his small leadership team are the only people guiding this ship. There are no members to vote on things. Sometimes there is no denomination to support and guide (as in our case). So leaders must lead, and they must lead well. With the Bible in hand and prayer on the lips, leaders must look to God for direction and choose wisely the path to follow. They must be humble and low before God. This is his work, but he's called certain leaders to establish it. Those leaders must lead.
A church plant starts out with maybe one family. Hopefully more, but in many instances it is the planter, his wife, and their kids. If the Lord blesses the work more will jump on board soon. But you probably won't plant a church with 150 people out of the gate. So everyone matters. Everyone has a place; the trick is finding where that place is. Try things. Give people opportunities. Lead well. Handle issues as they arise. And remember that everyone matters, to God and to his church. They wouldn't stick around long if they didn't believe in the work you are doing. Be wise in who you commission, but don't be afraid to do it at all.
The Bible is Truth:
Ok, here's the really obvious point: the Bible is the only truth we have. But what a wonder it is to have it! Lean heavy upon its words. Read it daily, diligently, prayerfully, openly. Consult its pages, learn from its authors, draw near to God through it. Let it remind you that there is power in the name of Jesus, and that Jesus will build his church.
The Bible also proves its worth in community discussion. Looks across the room and seeing a newer person flipping though the pages of the Bible, deep in though over its words, it a joy inexpressible. God is becoming real to that person. May he become so more and more as we grow!
You Will Be Attacked:
Satan hates church planting. Spiritual warfare is real. Be prepared. Don't be surprised when things start hurting, people act weird, or problems arise. Be mindful that not every bad thing is a demon, but know that they are actively working against your efforts. God is with you and for you. Trust him and ask for much prayer from others. Don't ignore the devil, but don't give him too much credit either. Recognize his power, but recognize that it is weak compared to the resurrected Christ.
God Will Be With You:
God will be with you. He will. He has promised it. He will lead you and bless you. He will give you opportunities that don't make sense apart from his providence. He will give you grace in moments when it seems everything is falling apart. He will send you $10,000 checks as you're on the phone with someone telling you their leaving the plant. He will send you people with a heart bigger than yours for a specific purpose. He will supply you with grace upon grace because you are involved in work that will last for eternity.
You Need Friends:
You need friends to plant a church - real friends. You need encouragers for hard days, and you need realists for crazy ideas. You need people to just hang out with. You need someone to watch a football game with and not talk about anything church related. You need people to go to dinner with. Your wife needs friends; your kids need friends. You cannot do this on your own, and friends are the balm that heals the wounded heart and spurs the discouraged one. Don't be so occupied planting the church that you fail to make deep, abiding friendships.
Jesus Builds His Church:
Jesus is the church planter. We are just involved in his work. He's the one with the vision. He's the one with the saving grace. He's the one who died for his bride. We join him in his mission, and in so doing we find so much joy.
Truly, God is Our Refuge:
There is no refuge from God, there is only refuge in God (Psalm 2 proves this). More people need to know this. That's why we're planting in Franklin, Tennessee. Everything man-made will fail. Eveything God-made will last. He alone provides refuge from the storm of life. Find your shelter beneath his wings.
There are a thousand more lessons I'm learning, and perhaps I'll do another post in six months to talk about those. But for now, this is what the Lord is teaching me. Now, go and write a letter of encouragement to a church planter you know. He needs it.