Church planting is a lot like surfing. Sometimes you ride the wave. Sometimes the wave rides you. In 30 years of ministry, DeLynn and I have fought storms and we’ve sometimes lost grip from our boards. But we have kept paddling, continually catching the waves God has sent us. I imagine that every church planter has had the same experience. Since we started Healing Place Church in 1992, a lot has changed in the world of church planting and there are some new recipes and ways of doing ministry. At the same time, nothing has changed and there are still some of the same principles for enduring ministry that apply today.
Here are some things that can help you be prepared to ride the waves, so that you’re not just enduring ministry, but you are thriving in it.
Remember why you’re in ministry – it’s about people.
Right from the beginning, we had a heart to help people. We didn’t know much but we always had a heart for the forgotten, for the poor, for the people nobody else wanted to help. I knew that’s who we were supposed to reach. The guys in the church would help people move, or move a widow, or a single mom. We had this garage sale one day to raise money for a sound system, and we had all this junk everybody had collected. By the end of the day, we decided to take the price tags off everything and just give it all away. That started us down the path of generosity and birthed in us a passion for loving people and just giving away resources.
You have to be Kingdom-minded.
As Healing Place grew, Acts 4:32 was something that God always brought back to my heart.
“All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.” Acts 4:32
I saw the growth and provision as, “Wow, we’ve got a bigger church; that means we have more resources to help people.” But you have to be careful because you can suddenly start eating your seed and take on the mentality of, “All this growth is about our church.” Pretty soon, all of your resources are going into your church under the hidden guise of, “We want to reach more people for God.” You must make a decision early on and intentionally answer the questions: Will church planting and missions be a priority in every aspect of our church, especially our budget? If we say it’s a priority, what changes are we making to be a church that plants and resources other churches?
I knew I wanted to be part of something that came alongside church planters. We didn’t want people to go through what we went through. We all know leaders and churches with abundant resources, yet they don’t have a true Kingdom mindset. They only see things through the lens of the church they’re growing, not the Kingdom. I remember thinking early on that not only did we want to build our church, we wanted to build the Kingdom of God. So, we had this Kingdom mentality. We wanted to make a difference in the body of Christ, in the “Big C” church, not just our own church. I saw this modeled for me by so many ARC leaders, pastors who have the courage and heart to say, “I’m not just going to build my thing; I’m going to build on what other people are doing.”
Raise up leaders.
In the early days, you’re doing everything. But just like surfing, you don’t ever want to be in a place where you’re doing ministry alone. So begin right from the start by making a priority of investing yourself in developing leaders.
Early on, I made a decision I would never do anything alone. So, for example, if I was visiting people in the hospital, I took someone with me. If I was going to meet with a community leader, somebody went with me. Whatever I did, I made sure someone was shadowing me, learning. Those moments of apprenticing help you identify people who have a gift and can really help. Suddenly, you’ve become exponential. It’s Jesus Discipleship 101.
Diversify your team.
We discovered that young people have more time to spend with outreach, worship, and kids. But I’ve also learned they can be a potential liability. Make space for the mature— those people who have lived and experienced life—especially on your dream team. The bottom line is that you need to have all of the different tools in the tool chest when you plant your church. You’re going to need the energy of the young, and compassion of college students/young adults, and you’ll need the learned wisdom and insights of married couples and older people. You have to think about how to both reach and teach all of the generations.
Don’t do ministry alone.
The biggest thing you need to remember as a church planter is that there are people and other pastors that are here to help you. The ARC family is there to help you cultivate a life-giving church and to get you moving. It exists to help you get the best possible equipment—tools, resources, knowledge, a shoulder to cry on—for your launch. There are other pastors just like you that want to help you learn to not panic. I have church planters calling me all the time, and they’re panicking because something is coming unraveled. That’s when I say, “Hold up, let’s slow down and process this.” Take a moment to realize you’re going to get through this. You’re not alone. Make sure you get in an environment and find those people in your life to do ministry and life with.
We all ride waves, but so often we’re highlighting the big wave riders. Remember that the big waves don’t happen overnight; they take time. Most of the people we tend to hear from have already paddled through the waves and have broken the harbor. They’re out there in a better place. No surfer wants to get caught on the inside where the waves are crashing, and you inevitably lose your board. That’s what church planting is; it’s on the inside. But eventually you start growing, and it goes from there—from 12 to 32, to 72, to 202. Suddenly, you start riding the waves that God sends you. I love what Rick Warren always says about the fact that you can’t make waves, but you can be prepared to ride them when God sends them.