My family and I left the security of a great family, awesome church, exciting job, wonderful home, and and incredible community to pursue the adventure of church planting. This was something that through a series of events was Providential and not of my own accord. Although, I tend to have wanderlust, this was something that I felt God was calling us to do. After several confirmations, and a resounding yes from my wife, we packed our U-Haul and headed west to the most beautiful city I had ever laid on eyes on- Colorado Springs. Colorado wasn’t really on my radar, I have to give credit to someone else for that, but however we got here, here we are.
It’s been 4 years since we planted KeyStone Church, and if life lines up with a college degree, then I have been on the fast track to a doctorate in what to do and not do in church planting! If you’re a church planter out there, then maybe some of these things will make sense to you. If you’ve ever thought about planting a church, then maybe some of the lesson’s I’ve learned can help you navigate these tricky waters. Whatever the case, I thought I’d write down a few things that I’ve learned as a church planter.
- Stop trying to plant a church; start making disciples. One of the most important phrases that any “church planter” can learn is this:
“If you start out planting a church, you’ll usually end up with consumers, if you make disciples, you’ll always end up with a church.” ~ Mike Breen. Sounds a little weird coming from a church planter, but it’s true. It will take you longer, but it will be worth it. By the way, this is what we are supposed to be doing anyway!
- Stop comparing. I had to stop comparing what I felt God called us to do with what other people were doing. I was called to do something unique and in line with my gifts. This is all I can do. I can’t be someone else…I had to let that insecurity go, and just be who God created me to be. My ego had to die, so will yours, but you will resurrect as a broken person, and God likes that.
- Get rid of expectations. I thought that KeyStone was going to be the next Mega-Church that had the spinning globes, cafes, bookstores, flags, huge entry…you get the picture. What KeyStone ended up being was small, healthy, strong, and community driven. We grow slow on purpose!
- Allow for failure. One of the pillars at KeyStone is that we will allow for failure. If something’s not working, then we give each other the permission to end it immediately. It doesn’t matter how sacred the cow we think it is, if it ain’t working, we get rid of it!
- Be Flexible! Not everything is going to go the way you expect. I had to bite my tongue, and allow for change in things that I was trying to accomplish. Plan on things not going like you thought they would. It’s OK. The sun is still going to rise in the morning.
- You can’t people please. Looking back, I can see a lot of this in my life. I had to find the balance of what honoring people (sometimes even those in authority) looked like compared to what listening the the Lord looked like. I know that I can’t please everyone, nor is it my call to do so. You may have to let some relationships go, or at least put them on pause for a while so that you can clearly hear what God is telling you to do. People will get mad at you, leave you, and disagree with you, you will have to get over that!
- Stop looking back. The missionaries of old would burn their ships when they landed on the country of their calling. This is not to say that you can be open to new things that God may call you to do, but until then, stay the course. The grass is not always greener in the other church.
- Stay humble, be teachable. I don’t know everything, and sometimes, I don’t know anything. It’s so important for me to be teachable and ever learning. I am constantly learning from people that think differently than I do.
- Keep people around you that challenge you. Contrary to many leadership books, it’s good to have people around you that generally disagree with you. This will not hinder your growth, but actually enhance it. Surrounding yourself with people who always think like you eventually grows into spiritual inbreeding. Healthy conflict always fosters growth. Challenge the way you think, it will help you, I promise.
- Let people come, let people go. When I first planted KeyStone, I was looking for anyone who could “fog a mirror”; and once they came to a service, I would try so hard to “keep” them. I can tell you that it made them feel uncomfortable, and I felt weird too. I have learned that KeyStone is not for everyone, and I had to learn to let them go if they didn’t feel like they fit in our community. It’s not that I didn’t want them to stay, I just figured out that there may be a better place for them to grow.
- Realize church is not a franchise, it’s a living organism. You may have seen the “all-in-one package for church planting” kits! What I have come to realize is that “one size does not fit all”. Church is not supposed to be franchise-able. It’s a living organism that ebbs and flows within the culture that it is in. When I tried to make KeyStone a Hoosier (that’s a fancy term for people from Indiana) church, I realized quite quickly that it wasn’t going to work in Colorado. People in Colorado think differently, act differently, and have a pioneering spirit. Some people call this rebellious, I like to think of it as free. It’s not that Hoosiers way of thinking is bad, it’s just not Coloradan! Find the rhythms of your culture and learn to flow with them.
- Embrace the suckage! This is a real phrase here at KeyStone. Sometimes life just sucks…you can kick against it, try to manage it, change it, manipulate it or you can simply embrace it. Pain is a great teacher, suffering brings us in close proximity of Jesus and the ones He is trying to reach. At times, church planting sucks…there’s just no sugar coating it. Embrace it. You may not be able to change things, but it will change you.
- Have fun! On the heels of embracing the suckage…have fun! Look, if you’re not having fun, then you probably should find something else to do. It may take a minute for you to realize this, but I am pretty sure that God wants you to be fulfilled in what you are doing.
- Pray, and have people you trust pray for you. This involves a whole bunch of being real and transparent. You don’t have to have all the answers or feel like you are superman. Real, transparent, and vulnerable leaders are in it for the long haul. Once you think you’re on top of the pyramid, get ready, you’re gonna get your ass kicked. Be honest with your prayer partners. Be honest with the people that God has entrusted you with. Be honest with yourself.
It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but it’s some of the things I have learned. Hopefully it helps a few of you out there.
Always be learning, always be ready to discard what you think you know, but keep what is true. Always be listening, make disciples, have community; build lifelong relationships.