“I’m learning most of these lessons the hard way, but our church is better for it.”
For our From the Front Lines series, we asked several pastors to share the stories of their church plants. These pastors will be checking in online with regular updates on their churches and experiences, allowing readers a front-row seat to the ins and outs of church planting.
Village Church: Update No. 1
I have only been a church planter for 6 years, Village Church is only 4.75 years old, and I’m still a relatively young man … I am terrified of discovering all of the things I don’t know. I’m certainly not opposed to learning—I seek opportunities to stretch myself, but given the revelations of the last few years, I’m not sure I can handle what lies ahead.
There are certainly seasons of life when one’s knowledge base expands at a greater rate than normal, and this may be one of those seasons. It’s not that I’m getting smarter; what I mean is the last few years have shown me how much I need to learn.
Here are a few things I’m working on:
1. You have to say “no” to some really great things.
When you are the new church in town, lots of people want to know what you are about, and many of these people have a list of things that you should be about. Some of them are noble and good, while others are consumeristic and agenda driven. But all of them, without exception, are opportunities that must be evaluated in light of the vision and mission of the church, and must take into account the season of life that your church is in.
The hardest opportunities to say “no” to are those that match your vision and mission, but not the season of life your church is in. A hard lesson to learn, because it requires patience. It requires you to understand that if your church is going to last over the long run, you must not try to go too far, too fast.
Sometimes a young church has to say “no” to mission trips, or a youth group, or a homeless ministry, or an after school program or any number of other kingdom driven programs and ministries. Not every opportunity will be easy to pass on, and you will need to be diligent in seeking the wise counsel of others before you bite off more than you can chew. Sure, it’s easy to say “no” to a puppet ministry or a bell choir, but the choices are rarely that clear.
2. It takes a long time before your community wants to hear from you.
This is particularly true if you are an “out of towner.” Dr. John Perkins, the leader of the Christian Community Development Association, makes this point in his writings and in every talk that I have heard him give. Establishing credibility takes time, and cannot be rushed. People need to know that you are going to be around for a while before they are interested in your opinion, and certainly before they ask you to lead them.
Establishing this credibility is crucial to your success as a neighborhood pastor. People need to know that you are committed to the place that you have planted. They need to know that your kids go to school with their kids, that you sleep in the same neighborhood they sleep in, that you shop where they shop. If you ever want to be one of them you have to make intentional steps to be with them and follow the lead of Jesus.
You must also seek to serve, long before you seek to lead. This means partnering with those who were at work in your city before you arrived, even if they are not perfect. You may have the solution to their problems, but if they are not ready to hear from you, your solution is unwanted. If you push it, you will be unwanted, too.
3. You must take breaks.
It is sinful to work without resting. We have all listened to talks on Sabbath, and there is usually a day off on our calendars, but we don’t honor that very often. Certainly, there are seasons that require extra effort and extra hours, but these should be the exception, not the rule. There will always be more work to be done. If you are ambitious this will make you crazy, but you must incorporate rest into your schedule regardless of this fact.
This is complicated because rest isn’t always easy. Our smart phones keep us tethered to our email and make us reachable even when we are “off work.” It’s hard not to think about church stuff when you aren’t working, so being present and at rest can be challenging, but you must find a way to do it. Find an activity that is challenging to your mind and requires your attention, read something that has nothing to do with theology or leadership, tell your friends to yell at you when you try to “talk shop.” And take your vacation time.
Here some rules I use on my day off, they are not perfect, but they help.
1. My cellphone gets placed on “do not disturb” and I don’t check email. The settings on my phone allow me to block calls from everyone but my wife.
2. I do something active. I go mountain biking, build furniture, play golf, hike in the woods, etc. People who work with their minds should rest with their hands.
3. I spend time with my wife and kids, and we have a “no church talk” rule.
4. I don’t schedule church activities during this time. My calendar says, “I’m unavailable” because I have made an appointment with myself and my family.
I’m learning most of these lessons the hard way, and becoming aware of my own shortcomings isn’t always pleasant, but our church is better for it. I’m a better husband, father and pastor. By God’s grace, I’ll embrace this season of tough lessons, and looking back his guidance will be easy to see.