I recently watched the movie Million Dollar Baby, and so many parallels to church planting jumped out at me. A quote by Morgan Freeman’s character really hit me. He said, “Show me a fighter who’s nothin’ but heart, and I’ll show you a man waiting for a beating.” He was talking about boxing, but the similarities were clear.
It’s been right at a year since I resigned from Youth Pastor at Mountain View Baptist Church following God’s call to plant Redemption Church in Ogden, Utah. It’s been a growing, challenging, exciting, faith-filled, crazy, and stressful year for me and my wife. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my limits, and my strengths. I’ve learned that time is more precious a commodity than money. But, I’ve also learned a lesson I’ve always heard but never really understood. That is that church planting is extremely tough.
A boxing match is a pretty good metaphor for church planting. Punches fly in from the enemy, culture, yourself, and even other Christians. In boxing, if you go into a fight unprepared, untrained, and lacking a strategy, you will take a severe beating. In church planting, if you try the above, you will also take a beating that may take along collateral damage such as your family, friends, and your own abundant spiritual life. Heart is good. Heart is important. But, if it’s all you have, you’ll be eaten alive.
So, what else do you need? If it weren’t for these things, I don’t know if we would’ve made it this far.
1. Calling – In my opinion, this is the most important thing to fall back on. A clear call in the midst of trials and tribulations of church planting remains a constant of God and His confirmation on what you’re doing. If you don’t have a clear call, then don’t plant a church. There are many other things you can do with your time. Learn a hobby. Play with your kids.
2. Faith – I love going back to Hebrews 11, “the faith chapter” when times are tough. Mainly because I feel like a coward when I doubt God. At the end of the chapter, it talks about those that were tortured, mocked, flogged, stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword, wandering around destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. They did it because of their faith in God not in themselves. The Christian life is a constant letting go of trust in myself and placing that in God. Faith keeps you focused and motivated.
3. Family – I’ve heard from several mentors in my life that even if you plant the healthiest church in the world and lose your family, you have failed. In 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul instructs these young pastors that one of the major qualifications of a pastor is to pastor your family first. If a man is unable to pastor his family, then he is unfit to pastor a church. Your family also keeps you sane. There have been so many times in my ministry that my wife has helped me regain my focus and trust in God. If your family truly is not on board and not called to this, you will probably fail.
4. Mentors – These are guys who are allowed to speak into your life. You have given them permission, or you have asked them to give you advice. Be careful here. Everyone’s advice is not equal. Years in ministry do not necessarily equate to good advice. Some mentors will be extremely qualified to speak into one area of your life such as leadership, family, evangelism, discipleship, calling, organizational structures, or fundraising. Find mentors for each area and learn. Once you’ve found them, listen. Evaluate. Then, implement.
5. Friends – Everyone needs friends, especially church planters. You need to have people in your life that you can be yourself around. Church planting is a serious endeavor, and it takes a lot of focus and discipline. You need that release. Find a hobby together. Grab coffee or lunch and just hang out.
6. Support Network – Every church and church planter should have partners that will do more than just send checks once a month (although you need that too). One of our partnering churches has become very precious to us. They sent us encouraging notes, gift cards, checks, and baby gifts when our little boy was born. It was incredibly encouraging. Days when you are down and you feel as though things aren’t going according to plan, a support network can make the differrence.
7. Strategy – A lot of us pastor types like to throw strategy out the window because we think it’s a secular business word, and God would not want us to use terms like that. I think that’s foolish and unbiblical. Strategy is all throughout Scripture. When Joshua was told by God to march around Jericho seven times singing and playing music, that was strategy. It was a God-breathed strategy, but it was strategy. Strategy doesn’t have to equate to pragmatism and a lack of biblical theology. It means having a plan and process for seeing that plan implemented. If you are to let Scripture and the Spirit inform all the other decisions you have to make, why would you not let them inform your strategy?
8. Resources – There are ways to plant churches cheaply and on a budget, but resources give you breathing room to continue on. I know of several churches who started with no financial partners, and God has blessed them. They are doing well, and if God has called you, I believe He will provide what you need. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go into church planting ill-prepared. Resources allow you to get a jumpstart. Rent, salaries, insurance, legal fees, mailers, and outreaches aren’t free. Putting your head in the sand won’t make the price tag go away.
Obtaining resources through individuals and churches who partner with you benefits you and those involved. Other churches get the privilege of helping the church get started. You get crucial resources to help advance the mission. They can be involved in the plant from miles away even though many of them will never get the opportunity to see your church plant in person.
9. Discipline – This is something I’m always beating myself up about, but it’s crucial. For most church planters, you don’t have an office or a personnel committee looking over your shoulder. It’s just you. There’s lots of things that need to be started and finished. You have to start ministry teams, evangelistic events, small groups, prepare for sermons, meet with people, disciple people, and lead people. With time being the most precious resource, make sure you use it wisely. Youtube and facebook are easy distractions, but don’t let them distract you from the mission at hand. In some ways, you also steward the momentum of your church plant. And, when you are undisciplined, the momentum often falls with it. Stay focused and stay disciplined. If you cannot self-discipline yourself, then church planting is going to be a tough road ahead.