April 29, 2014

When You're Preparing to Plant and Feel Overwhelmed (Question Series)

This is the second in a series where I'm answering questions from readers. The first post is here: I'm exhausted. How can I thrive rather than just survive?

I love to talk with church planting wives, because I love hearing stories of what God is doing all over this globe, and I love encouraging women to use their influence well. The truth is that most church planting wives feel alone, and they need a reminder, just as I do, that what we do matters because it is seen by God.
I'm at Exponential this week doing sessions on boundaries and being a healthy church planting wife, so if you're coming, let's talk in person! However, because most of you won't be at Exponential, I recently opened the floor on Facebook and Twitter for questions about church planting and ministry. I'm not assuming that I have all the answers, but I am assuming that the gaps in my attempts can be filled in by readers' hard-won wisdom in the comments section. I'll continue answering questions in the posts to come, so feel free to drop one in below.

Here's the question for today's post:

Q. My husband and I are planning to plant a church in a year or two. It's easy to feel overwhelmed with all the change coming on the horizon. I'm trying to not to worry or feel inadequate. What would you say to someone like me who is getting ready to plant? 

A. When we were just beginning to consider that God might be calling us to plant a church, my husband and I attended a church planting conference. We had no idea how one planted a church, so the talks were informative, but they were also intensely overwhelming. We learned about writing a prospectus, raising support, raising a team, choosing a location, and the difficult work ahead. And in my mind, I was considering a flood of questions and issues that affected our children, family, and friends, not to mention the feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty plaguing my heart.

It sounds like you're in that same place. Not many people know. You're still living a life that you know will soon, if you're moving, be your former life. There are a million unknowns and a million uncertainties, and when you stare at the mountain called church planting that you're about to climb, it's daunting.

I'll share with you what helped me and has become my motto in church planting, parenting, and writing: Just do the next thing. 

Church planting may be a mountain, but it's climbed by putting one foot in front of the other. Don't focus on the task as a whole, which will only lead to anxiety. Focus instead on where the next step needs to be and take it. For your husband, that may mean putting together a prospectus or making a phone call to a possible supporter. For you, it may be more of an emotional or spiritual "next thing", like reading a book that helps you understand the process or dealing with doubts honestly before the Lord.

Here are some practical "next things" that I wrote about in The Church Planting Wife that will serve you well in preparing to 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 PlaceFaithful Women and Their Extraordinary GodPeace ChildBonhoefferAnd The Word Came with PowerAmy CarmichaelLiving 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 ChurchesChurch PlanterConfessions of a Reformission RevThe Radical Reformissionand 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 neighborspractice 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!

For further reading, I've written previously about this subject: Preparing Personally for Church Planting

Readers, please feel free to chime in. What were the best things you did that prepared you for church planting? Also, if you have a question you'd like me to take a stab at, leave it for me in the comment section.