August 16, 2012

How to Prepare for Church Planting

Jessica recently wrote with this question: My husband and I are over a year out from church planting. What advice would you give me as a wife in preparing for this journey? How can I use this upcoming year to prepare while also faithfully ministering to and loving those around us now?

Congratulations, Jessica! Welcome to the wonderful adventure of church planting! In some ways, preparing to church plant is like getting engaged: you're moving toward the big day, you really have no idea what to expect other than what people have told you from their own experience, and you're in the midst of a whole lot of planning, preparation, and uncertainty.

You know how people tend to put most of their efforts into planning the wedding, but don't spend much time preparing for the actual marriage? We don't want to make that same mistake when it comes to church planting. It's easy to focus entirely on getting the house sold, raising financial support, creating a prospectus, and making logistical plans for our children without ever considering what will sustain our souls, faith, marriages, families, and fledgling churches a month or year or four years down the road. Which is why your question is a really good one.
Looking back on the six months prior to our plant, the following are the things I did that prepared me or, more accurately, the following are the things I wished I had done that might have eased my transition from established church to church plant:

Develop a consistent time in the Word and prayer. I cannot emphasize this enough. There will be times in church planting when you are desperate for encouragement, the voice of God, the movement of God, help, energy, or a renewed faith. You won't be able to rely on your husband for those things because he will be just as desperate as you. You may not yet have a church body to turn to because, hey, that's what you're trying to build. Your family and friends may be physically and experientially miles away. The help and sustenance you crave can only and will only be found in God. The Word is your lifeline to Him. Teach yourself to crave the Word, drench yourself in it, and learn to depend on God for everything that you need. (Start reading daily in Acts because you will soon feel like you're living a chapter out of that book.)

Feed your faith. As you prepare to plant, you will have innumerable opportunities to doubt, fear, worry, resist God, and even back out altogether. The answer? Faith. Exercise it by battling the doubts and fears that rage inside of you. Dig into the Word for truth about God's character that gives you a solid foundation to stand on. At every turn, choose to believe God and to trust that He will fulfill what He's called you to do. Trust in the Lord, and do good. Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Psalm 37:3

Read helpful resources. Fill your mind with the Word but also with good resources that challenge and inspire your faith. For me, this means reading good biographies of men and women who proclaimed Christ, such as The Hiding Place, Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, Peace Child, Bonhoeffer, And The Word Came with Power, Amy Carmichael, Living Sacrifice and so forth.

In preparation, also read church planting books right alongside your husband so you know what to expect and what this requires for him. My husband recommends Planting Missional Churches, Church Planter, Confessions of a Reformission Rev, The Radical Reformission, and Launch.

Clarify and confirm your calling. During your time of preparation, truly nail down your calling. When everyone stops cheering and patting you on the back as they send you off to church plant, your clear calling from God will sustain you. Also, check your motives for church planting before they are tested by trials, hard work, and setbacks. Make sure you're doing it because God is calling you, not because you're frustrated in your current situation. Church planting is not the answer to your hurts or your frustrations; in fact, it will only exacerbate unresolved issues in your heart.

Journal. As God clarifies and confirms your calling, write everything down. Record how God answers pray, how He confirms your calling, what verses He is using to speak to your fears and concerns, and any and all victories you experience.

Gather people. Ask people for prayer support and tell them honestly what you need prayer for. If possible, gather people to go with you. Finally, if possible, connect with other wise church planting wives who have gone before you so that you ask questions and share your concerns. Leading and Loving It, an online ministry for ministry wives, provides just such an opportunity.

Practice what you're about to do. Church planting is all about people, people, people. If you're not all about people, people, people, you need to start being all about people, people, people. Talk to people, ask good questions of people, steer conversations in a spiritual direction, socialize with nonbelievers, get to know your neighbors, practice hospitality, or join a community organization. In other words, get outside the walls of the church. You will not have those walls in a few short months.

Learn about key church planting concepts. The sower and grower principles found in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 detail that God is responsible for church growth, while we are responsible for planting and watering seeds. John 15 says that we can't do anything unless we abide in the Vine. Ephesians 6 speaks about intense spiritual warfare. Learn these, memorize them, and put them into practice because they affect how you plant and how you respond to the difficulties of church planting.

Finally, dream. You are about to get to build a church from the ground up. Like parents, you and your husband will implant your DNA into this church and shape this church more than anyone else. That's a great responsibility, but it's also an incredible opportunity to impact a specific people and a specific community with the gospel. Dream big!

Current church planting wives, anything you would add?

By the way, I love questions from readers! Do you have one? Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, by email, or simply leave your question in the comment section.