July 7, 2011

The Difficult First Year of Church Planting

In my stroll down memory lane, I rarely think about our first year. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. Evidently we did it the hard way, although no one told us so at the time. Very few who church plant do it the easy way, but we chose the extra-hard way, primarily because we didn't know what we were doing or what we were getting ourselves into.

Here's how to do the first year of church planting the hard way:

  • Move clear across the country into an area where you don't know anyone, which will effectively eliminate all ministry connections and all physical and emotional support. 
  • Start your church in your home on Sunday evenings. Nothing screams "Run away! It's a cult!" like strange people implanted from out of state huddled up in a living room with guitars, Bibles, kool-aid, and candles. OK, for sure don't do kool-aid and candles.
  • Invite everyone you know: the realtor, the lady you met at the gas station, and the neighbors who stared at you blankly when they asked why you moved to town. Oh, and don't forget your kids. They will count for 30% of your first night's attendance.
  • Confidently say things to your church like, "When we grow..." or "As we grow..." even though you feel like you're pretending to be a real church.
  • Finally, grow big enough that you move the church out of your home and into the neighborhood community center. Make all your neighbors mad that a religious service is being held there, clog up the parking lot, and get kicked out via a cease and desist letter. Do this on the Friday before your first big outreach event, at which you plan to invite the entire city to your church that meets at....nowhere.
  • Lacking a space, end your first year with a bang by meeting under a tent in front of a grocery store with 31 people who brave the rain, humidity, and mud in order to be there.
And you think I jest. 

That, my friends, was our first year of church planting. It felt like we were trying to push a boulder up a mountain. We prayed that we might hit a peak and gain some momentum, but the peak and the momentum did not come. 

It's no wonder I don't think much about that first year. It was like the first few months with a newborn: a haze, a blur, and a mind-numbing stretch of instability. I recall many nights talking with Kyle on the couch or driving in the car or staring at the ceiling in the early morning hours when I was frightfully aware that I was not in control. That there was nothing I could do to make it happen. That all my efforts couldn't do anything to change the heart of a person or to create unity and community among believers.

God used that year to break me, to humble me, and to teach me how to depend on Him.

He taught me how to have faith.

He taught me to have hope contrary to my circumstances, to not waver in my belief.

He taught me that He is a God "who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did." (Romans 4:17)

I'm so thankful for that year, that things did not come easily for us. Otherwise I would think I had something to do with it other than just showing up.

I know there are some of you out there who are just getting started or who are in your first difficult months of pushing the boulder up the mountain. Hold tight to our God, sisters. He is faithful. He will see you through.

Earlier today, I thought about the many nameless, faceless women all across the globe who are following God's call to a people group or a city or a church. Will you leave a comment telling us where you are (if you can), what you're doing, and how other ministry wives can pray for you? I would love to pray for you specifically, especially those who are hurting or struggling with discouragement. If you're reading, I hope you'll join me in praying for the needs listed. Thank you!