Here are five more things I’ve learned starting a new church:
6. Who is fighting with you is more important than who is fighting against you. There will spiritual opposition to any new church. Nearby churches will be suspicious. Dying churches will be afraid and, like Saul seeking David’s death, try to do you harm. If your church breaks denominational norms, expect bullets from that direction as well. However, if God is for you, who can be against you? Add to that a team of loyal, gifted, spiritually-minded friends to go into battle with, and you’ve got more than enough to fend off the wiles of the Devil. God will give you what and who you need to do what He’s called you to do.
7. You will play hurt for the first several years. Every church planter walks the journey with the shrapnel of spiritual warfare embedded in their innermost parts. Embrace it as a good soldier. God rarely calls people to do easy things. If conflict, temptations, abandonment, personal criticism or extremely challenging ministry situations are not something you are willing to accept–you should do something else. I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s all pain. It’s not. There is great joy involved in the beautiful fight of starting a new church. However, the pain is constant enough you’ll need to be prepared to “play hurt” quite a bit. Marriage under stress? Sick? Discouraged? Tempted? You must overcome by the power of the Spirit. Out of answers? They’ll come when God’s ready to give them to you. Within the first couple of years the church is disproportionately dependent on the Lead Planter. There will be a lot of “toughing it out.” Embrace it. I’m not saying ignore major warning signs. I’m warning ministry hypochondriacs that a lack of toughness in the Lead Planter can kill a new church.
8. No matter how much money you start out with, money will continue to be your biggest practical challenge. We started out with virtually zero money. We received one check of outside support from another church–and we didn’t even ask for it. Everyone else either said, “no,” or said they’d like to help out and never did. I was talking to a fellow planter as we were starting and asked him what his three biggest challenges had been. He said, “Money. Money. And, money.” He’s right. There are many reasons for this. People will walk away when they are unable to co-opt the churches direction creating deficits or deflating progress. If you grow, needs will outpace the growth of offerings because new people don’t give much but require much of a church. It’s one of those good problems to have. People are always more important than funds, but funds help a church serve people. Embrace your role as missionary fundraiser. It is yours–and it’s vital. Planters who start out with outside funding often fail to develop this gift–and it bites them down the road when outside support ends. In a way, New Vintage Church’s need to support itself from day one has been a veiled blessing. It would have been easier to do it another way and would have helped us grow even faster–but long-term, I think it will help us.
9. The people you start with won’t be the people you end with. At least, not entirely. I know it feels like the people who are with you when you start are all as deeply committed to this as you are. By in large, they aren’t. God will bless you with some people who really are profoundly committed and stick with you through those early years. Most won’t. Don’t let it get you depressed or take it overly personally. I’m thankful Bill Hybels opened my eyes to this before we started, or I could have become more discouraged than I got when some of the people that started with us early on didn’t stick. Most of the people we started with are still here. But, several aren’t. Hybels explained why this is part of a normal church cycle. But, it still hurts. Give thanks for those that stick with you. Honor their commitment appropriately–for they are a beautiful treasure to the church, indeed.
10. Your highs and lows will be higher and lower than they are now. If I were to rank my ten favorite stories of life-change I’ve seen in ministry, seven or eight of them would come from New Vintage. If I were to rank my ten lowest ministry moments, five or six of them would come from New Vintage. New Vintage Church is not three years old yet, and I’ve been in vocational ministry for 18 years. What I’m saying is, NVC has made a disproportionate impact on my life and ministry–in a positive way. I don’t believe NVC’s impact on me has to do only with tough “circumstances.” It’s that you invest yourself in a church plant in ways you just can’t when you are new to an existing church. Here I’m referring not just to the church as an “organization,” but rather the people themselves. There is a love and concern for EVERY person that is palpable to a planter. This accounts, in part for the extreme highs and lows of starting a new church.
I could probably do five more, but I suppose that’s enough for now. Would I do it all over again? ABSOLUTELY! To those of you thinking about starting a new church: May the Lord’s wisdom cover your discernment, grant you courage and clarity, and bless every effort of yours that aligns with His Will.
Note: If you missed the first five, click here to read the first post in this series.