Today, Thursday September 13, 2012 marks the three year anniversary of Redemption Bible Church's public launch. I still remember that first Sunday morning wondering if anyone would show up, much less come back. I remember having second thoughts, thinking of all the other, far more safe and secure things I could do with my life. I remember thinking how ill-equipped I was for the task God had called me to. Yet through it all, God has been good.
We have seen incredible fruit and God's grace towards us has been rich, generous, and constant. We have seen people get saved. We have seen new marriages begin. We have seen old marriages heal. We have seen babies born. We have seen boys grow into men.
In short, we have seen God move.
This move of God He has gifted us to be a part of, has come with some difficult, but important lessons. What follows are the three most prominent lessons I have learned in the first three years of church planting. These are the three things I wish I could go back and tell myself that first Sunday morning...
1. You cannot plan for your particular brand of tests and trials
Prior to planting I read and listened to everything I could find on the topic of church planting. By far the most consistent theme was the difficulty involved in the task. I listened to church planter after church planter share their war stories and wounds from the front lines of ministry. Because of my diligent preparation, I waded arrogantly into church planting believing I had planned for whatever suffering would come my way.
But, then it began to happen. Within months I was getting pummeled by a particular brand of trials I had never planned for and never heard anyone speak to. If I could go back, I would tell myself that it is vital to be prepared for suffering, but that you simply cannot plan for your particular brand of tests and trials.
2. Planting with friends is way more work, but yields far more joy
I have heard it said that you cannot plant a church with your friends. While I believe there is wisdom in that warning, I think the principle requires a bit more nuance. I started Redemption with a handful of my dearest friends and what I would say is that it has put unique pressure and strain on those relationships. This has required us to give more time to relational stewardship than any other activity, or program.
Yet, despite the great amount of work it has been to cultivate health in those friendships, it has made the joys of church planting much more rich. I am blessed to experience and celebrate the greatest of God's graces with those I love the most and I would not trade this for the world. If I could go back to this date in 2009 I would tell myself that doing this with your friends will be a TON of work, but it will be the most fun you have ever had.
3. Determining who you will be, determines who will leave
Our vision today is so much clearer than it was three years ago. The crux of my vision at the start was simple: have a decent service, get some small groups going, develop leaders, and try not to screw this up. While I actually believe those are some vital aspects to growing a church, by God's grace, I have much more clarity now around who God has called us to be.
With this clarity has come another unexpected lesson. I naively believed that if I was just more clear about who we were and what we believed then more and more people would come and less and less people would leave. What I did not know, was that the more clear I got about who we were theologically, culturally, and functionally would help people know that our church was not for them. A vague vision leaves room for everyone, but a clear vision does not. If no one ever leaves your church it may be that your vision is simply too vague. I wish I could go back and tell myself to prepare to lose people as I became more clear regarding who God had called us to be.
God has used Redemption Bible Church to change many lives, but none more than mine. I am simply not the same man I was three years ago. God has been faithful to break me, shape me, and make me more and more into the image of Christ. I have a long way to go and Redemption has much to do. As we head into the next three years I am trusting Christ's grace for both.