Pastoring in general and church planting in particular can be a roller-coaster ride of emotions. When we planted Redemption, I didn’t thoroughly think through the emotional nature of what I was doing. In building relationships with a growing number of church planters, I've learned that this reality isn't isolated to me. As I reflect on my own journey in church planting and on the conversations I've had with other planters, there seem to be three emotions common to church planting.
1. Insecurity When you plant a church from scratch, there is very little that visually legitimizes you. You don't have the building, the people, or the programs that most people—Christians and non-Christians alike—think of when they think of church. Furthermore, Redemption didn't plant as a part of a denomination, so we didn't have the historical connection that many church plants are blessed with (or cursed with, depending on your perspective).
I totally understand that no program, or place, constitutes a church. A church is a gathered people redeemed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In my context, however, even non-Christians find the idea of a church without a building, or the decision to just start a church, a bit odd. As the planter, you end up having to convince people that you’re not starting a cult, that you won’t be serving Kool-Aid mid-service, and that you won’t be practicing animal sacrifice.
In the midst of trying to convince others, you end up having to convince yourself. You wonder, “Are we a real church? Do I have any business doing this? Am I a pastor if I don’t have any people yet?” Every church planter I’ve ever met experiences insecurity.
2. Fear I will never forget the way I felt when sitting in my basement with a whiteboard, sketching out what would become the vision of Redemption Bible Church. All I could hear was the sound of Ava, my oldest child, rolling around in her baby walker upstairs. I was terrified. I kept asking myself, “What am I doing? Will I be able to provide for my family? Is this going to work? Are people actually going to join us? Did God really call me to this?”
Stepping out in faith to start something from nothing induces a great amount of fear. You don’t know where people will come from. You don’t know how you’ll pay for it. You don’t know where you’ll be able to hold services. The uncertainty and unanswered questions fuel a level of fear that is difficult to deal with. Every church planter I’ve ever met experiences fear.
3. Envy This is the one no one wants to talk about, but it’s always there below the surface. You envy pastors for their preaching/writing gifts, their staff members, their finances, their facilities, and their church growth.
I think it’s out of envy that so many church planters criticize pastors of large churches. Some church planters will push back on this, masking their criticism in theological or methodological differences. While some of the criticism IS driven by those things, much—if not most—is driven by a desire to have more than what God has currently entrusted to us.
I won’t put this on every church planter, but I will speak for myself. As a church planter, I struggle with envy.
So here’s what we need to do.
First, if, like me, you’re a church planter experiencing these three emotions, you need to repent. Insecurity, fear, and envy are all sin. Each of these is rooted in the failure to find our identity and security in Christ. So you can’t foster, hide, or diminish these emotions; you need to repent of them and rest in Christ.
Second, if you’re a member of a church plant, your planter/pastor needs three things from you: your prayer, your encouragement, and your service. Pray for him daily, encourage him regularly, and serve Jesus in your church family faithfully.
Finally, if you’re a pastor of an existing church, find a way to encourage church planters in your area. There is a solid possibility you find them arrogant, brash, and largely irritating. Be gracious, and remember the insecurity, fear, and envy they are fighting to put to death in their hearts. Yes, they need to repent, but they still need your encouragement.
Together, and by God’s grace, we can plant and pastor churches that glorify Christ and help thousands know Jesus and make Him known.