January 16, 2014

5 Lessons from 5 Years of Church Planting

My friend Jenny was over recently, and my youngest son bounded into the room. He's getting so big, she said. I remember when he was a baby. She remembers him as a baby because she's been at our church since it started in our living room, and our baby-baby and our church-baby are only six months apart. Our baby-baby used to sit at the feet of our worship leader during church, drooling and attempting to keep his body upright. 

Everyone who has been at our church since the living room days counts the years of our church-baby by our baby-baby, and he just turned six, so the church is rounding around to the same number soon. 

Today, another of my babies turns one, my book-baby, The Church Planting Wife. Like all moms do, I marvel that my book-baby has so quickly reached this first-year milestone. 

Jenny's comment about my baby-baby, our subsequent talk of the church-baby, and the anniversary of my book-baby has gotten me thinking. What have each of these years and each of these babies brought, aside from sleepless nights and profound anxiety? Each of these years have taught me unique lessons, especially through church planting, things that are just now clarifying, things that I might even, if I could, add to my book-baby. Here's what each year has taught me:
Year One: Church Planting looks cool and exciting (and easy) only from the outside.
This was the stripping away year. We dove into church planting with excitement and enthusiasm, but we had unrealistic ideas of what it would entail and unrealistic expectations of how God would move.  We learned that church planting is not cool, nor is it easy, and if we would endure, it would be because of our reliance on God and His gospel alone. 

Year Two: Success is spelled F-A-I-T-H.
One of the lingering lies that held one from year one was that success equaled numbers and also a lack of difficulty and discouragement. We rounded into year two having given everything we had and having very little to show for it according to our definition of success. We learned that success in church planting is faith: believing and following God, relying on God as grower, and working hard but trusting God to bring fruit.

Year Three: Sometimes because you care, you will get hurt. But don't stop caring.
God built our little church community. By year three, we knew each other well and were invested in our relationships with one another. And then the bottom fell out, and we were all touched by the effects of sin. It hurt deeply because we cared deeply, and we wrestled together with how to respond. I was afraid after that, afraid to invest too deeply or to carry the struggles of others. I learned, however, that part of community is that it's risky. But I also learned that it's worth it to continue taking those risks.

Year Four: You have to change and grow with growth.
Our church-baby was really growing by this point, but I didn't evolve with it. I tried to know everyone (because I did at the beginning), I tried to have most visitors in our home for dinner (because I did at the beginning), and I tried to juggle several roles within the church (because I did at the beginning). I learned that I need to be fluid, ever listening for what God has for me in the present and not expecting that I will always do what I've done in the past.

Year Five: Drift happens. It's good, needed, and right to reorient.
Structure. Processes. Ministries. Elders. Good things had been built into the framework of the church, and suddenly our attention was drawn more inward onto maintaining what had been built, to juggling plates, and going from activity to activity. I lost sight of outsiders, of living with eyes for people. We grew tired and distracted, and, through it all, I learned profoundly the value and importance of rest and reflection.

Year Six: There's always more to learn.
This is the year we're in, and I'm still learning so much about God, about the church, and about myself. I hope to fill journals and this blog this year with all God teaches me. 

Through all these years and all these babies, one thing stands out: God is faithful. Now that we've church planted and seen the faithfulness of God and the beauty of His people, I dare say that I'd go anywhere and do anything that He asked of me. I want to see it again and again, and I want to birth whatever babies God has for me to birth.

What about you? What year of church planting are you in and what are the lessons that are rising to the top?