The call to plant a church in any city is an exciting one. Dreams of crowds gathered, baptisms, hands lifted in worship and heads bowed in earnest devotion fill the sanctified imagination, and fuel the faith of the church planter. And, after years of work, one of two things usually happens. Your dreams become reality, or they do not.
I’ve had the privilege of being a part of church plants on both sides of this outcome. Some grew really slowly, and more recently the last two have grown quite quickly. What I find interesting is that in both cases, perseverance is not just important; it’s critical.
Around year five, reality settles in. Five or so years in; however, no one throws you a party because your church isn’t new.
Five years in, you’re a pastor.
Five years in, people die.
Five years in, marriages break.
Five years in, you still have to make disciples, train leaders, rebuke sinners, admonish congregants, work budgets and do the work of normal ministry.
Your ability to do the work to which God has called you—be it a big work or a small—depends on your ability and commitment to persevere.
Plan to Persevere in Success
No one thinks about a successful church planter building perseverance. But having achieved some measure of “success,” I can’t tell you how important it is. If you plan on deriving life, meaning, and soul passion from ministry success, your spirit will starve and your soul will deform. Your spirit was meant to feast on Christ, not on crowds. If you don’t develop your disciplines of going deep into the Scriptures, prayer, meditation, fasting and the rest of the disciplines, you’re setting yourself up for a crash later.
I’ve tried to metabolize ministry success into devotional fuel. It’s like eating junk food. You feel fine at first, until you don’t. Ministry success does not mitigate the need for persevering faith.
Plan to Persevere in Failure
This one may seem obvious, but let me see if I can shed light on it. Having also tasted something like failure (or at least extreme slowness) in church planting, one comes face-to-face with the need to not draw one’s spiritual life from the way the church is doing. But more often than not, I’ve seen planters of slow-growing churches distract themselves from persevering in their work by playing around with ministry activities that have nothing to do with what God has asked them to do.
Attending lectures, having endless lunch meetings and frittering away your day with Christian-ish activities is not persevering in the work of the plant. Even if it’s going slow, stay focused.
Plan to Persevere in Christ
In both success and failure, the planter must persevere in Christ. The planter of the fast-growing work must remember to pursue Christ in personal devotion. The planter of the slow-growing work must remember to pursue Christ in the work to which he has been called. In either case, if you plan to plant, you’d better plan to persevere.
Adam Mabry is a veteran church planter and lead pastor at Aletheia Church in Boston, Massachusetts. This story was originally posted on NewChurches.com, an organization dedicated to helping church plants and multisite ministries thrive.