I have many notebook pages full of abandoned plans for Ascent church. I have been wrestling with the call to plant a church for nearly three years now and during that time I've read at least ten books on the topic and spent countless hours listening to podcast. I've been blessed to be surrounded by some amazing pastors like Steven Earp, Brannan Duncan, Rusty Gunn, Jason Dirks, and many many more amazing men of God who have taken the time to invest in me. I have been assessed, approved, and given access to world class training by the North American Mission Board, The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and the Association of Related Churches. I even took a year to intern in a church plant before planting myself. I very well may be the most equipped planter in the history of church planters and here is my conclusion: I have no idea what I am doing.
I have changed my mind at least 1,000 times during the course of this journey and I am constantly wondering if I am doing the right thing. I don't question the call itself, but I do doubt the strategy I am employing often. I am so grateful for all of the resources available to church planters today. I believe that I am in the golden age of planting churches and I am so grateful for this.
However, with all of the training provided it can become almost paralyzing. Every time you think that you have a good idea, you find an expert who says the exact opposite plan is the right plan. Just like that, you have yet another notebook page in the trash and it's time to re-plan your timeline, fundraising plan, or discipleship program.
This process is so humbling. Before I was actually planting a church I thought I was God's answer to all of societies problems. My church was going to be led with the excellence of life.church, have the worship quality of Elevation, and the theology of Capitol Hill Baptist. I would quietly judge others for their lack of ability to lead a church. I'm not proud to admit that, but it is the truth. I thought I knew everything and then I started the process of actually planting a church.
After months of trying to workout all the kinks in my "perfect" plan I realized that at the end of the day I had no idea what I was doing. I am so glad God has allowed me to come to this point. It is great to now be able to listen with complete humility and truly learn from the same planters I used to judge.
For anyone considering planting a church here are three things I hope you learn before you start the process. Don't make the mistakes I made. You have to plant with a posture of humility regardless of how much you know or how many books you've read.
Here are the three things I've learned.
1. Church Planting Forces You to Let Go of Certainty
Before turning my attention to full time planting I was always looking for the perfect model that would guarantee success. Now, I know there is no such thing. Church planting takes faith. You invest an enormous amount of time, effort, and money with no assurance of success.
If certainty is an idol to which you run for comfort, church planting will expose it quickly. I did not realize how prone I was to avoid failure due to my fear of man and failure until we started planting Ascent.
I am not cured of this fear. But, I am learning to trust God in the midst of the uncertainty. I am able to experience peace when I remember that although I can't be certain of what is to come, He is.
2. Church Planting Is Impossible Alone
In the opener I mentioned some of the pastor's who have taken me under their wing over the past few years and I could mention several more. I have grown more and more thankful for their help the further I've gone a long in this journey.
I am also thankful for the launch team God is building around me. I used to think I had to be the one to do everything and come up with all the ideas. That has been abolished over this season. Most of our best ideas so far have come from other people!
Church planting is impossible alone. You need a team of people. Our best ideas and biggest breakthroughs have came from people other than me. In fact, I didn't even name our church. A member of our launch team came up with a better, more meaningful name than the one I had come up with.
In the past, I would of viewed that as failure. Now I think that is an amazing testimony to the faithfulness of God. If God has called you to plant a church, he's given others the same calling. If you start with the posture of "I have no idea what I am doing" you'll find that those around you might have the best solutions to the problems you've been unable to solve.
3. Church Planting Success is Dependent Upon God
This lesson was the most comforting for me to learn. Now, I am not saying you don't have to plan or work hard and everything will magically work out. I work more hours and at harder rate than I ever have. I was a youth pastor and an established church pastor before planting. At the time, I thought I was working hard, but after a few months of church planting I am ashamed of my past work ethic. This is not a job for someone looking for an easy check. Some church planters fail because they put no effort into building relationships, learning skills, fundraising, team development, and the many other avenues of church planting. God isn't to blame for the lazy church planter's failure.
But, what I am saying is that some churches started in living rooms with 3 people and are now amazing gospel outpost for the glory of God. And on the other end of the spectrum some church have started with 1,000 people on day one and are being used mightily. Some planters took years, while others launched in three months. Some started with missional communities, others started with launch team meetings. All of these can and have succeeded for the glory of God. The key to success in church planting is not your perfect plan, it's the Holy Spirit. It is by the grace of God that any church is able to reach people with the Gospel.
That is so relieving to me. I am called to be obedient to Christ and work my hardest. The results will be determined by God. I have no idea what I am doing and that is okay because as long as I am reliant upon the power of the Spirit I will be marvelously helped.