Needless to say, there is a lot about church planting I didn't know when my wife Jennifer and I started preparations to plant Discover Life Church. We both grew up in a Pastor's home and had successfully led youth ministries together for 8 years, but there was so much about this new endeavor that we weren't prepared for. I don't believe it was because we didn't pray enough and it certainly wasn't for a lack of input from others. There are just some things in life that you have to learn as you go through them. I am finding that God often times doesn't let us see the whole picture. If we knew when we started what we know now, we might never have obeyed His calling or trusted His leading. Here are five things I know now, three years into this amazing journey...
#1. I DIDN'T KNOW IT WOULD BE SO HARD... to build an effective team of people.
About three months after our launch, I called a mentor of mine to shoot the breeze one day and he asked me a troubling question, "Have you lost your leadership yet?" I responded in confidence, "No we have been the lucky ones!" Little did I know that over the next six months, God would clean house of my first wave of leaders and replace them with brand new Christians, eager to serve, but as green as could be! To date, only one couple from our start-up team remains at DLC.
I knew that finding people for leadership would be challenging, but I didn't realize how hard it would be to build a real team. In my heart, I have always wanted to work with a knock-out team, in unity, dedicated to the cause. I envisioned this inspiring "War Room" with ideas bouncing everywhere and continued enthusiasm about the mission! I started out believing that we could solve any problem, create any ministry, and win anybody. But I quickly learned that most of the time, I was the only one in the room with winning enthusiasm. And unity, well that is a work in progress. A team doesn't come easily, it takes hard work and lots of personal investment. Often times in the church planting world, who you start out with won't be who you go the distance with. I have found that the most effective team is the one that the Lord builds around you as you serve. They are, most of the time, the most unlikely leaders.
#2. I DIDN'T KNOW IT WOULD TAKE SO LONG... to get ministry off the ground.
I suffer from a disease... of confidence. It had never been easy as a youth pastor, but when it came to getting things rolling, Jenn and I were pros. In 8 years, we took three youth ministry positions that had no organized group and no promised salary. But we made it work. In just a few months in all of those cases, we had formed a leadership team, written new mission statements, implemented new programs and seen substantial growth. I saw church planting as the same animal. However, it is not.
Real buy-in takes time, and just when you think they get it... you can find yourself back to square one. That is why keeping your eyes on the goal and sticking to your original mission is so important. Write down Core Values, and don't sway from them for anything or anyone. If you are convinced and committed, you will begin to see people follow suit. But you must be diligent and never stop casting the vision that God put in your heart from the very beginning.
#3. I DIDN'T KNOW IT WOULD COST SO MUCH... personal time and energy.
I vividly remember day dreaming about being a senior pastor and "setting my own schedule!" I had always been the guy on staff that did all the extra stuff and was available to everyone. My last youth ministry position was very time consuming and we were always trying to schedule some down time. So to get away from the chaos, I decided to plant a church!
There is something to be said for sacrifice and service. It teaches you a lot about your own heart. I have come face to face with my own selfishness and I am passionate about the righteous pursuit that God has put in front of me. Three years into it, I am still bi-vocational, still doing all the extra stuff, and I am still working hard to schedule some down time. I can tell you this though, we are beginning to get our stride in delegating. That is harder than it sounds, but well worth the effort. This journey has probably aged us, and I know it has exhausted us. This just comes with the territory.
#4. I DIDN'T KNOW IT WOULD TAKE ME SO FAR... from my comfort zone and ministry style.
Certainly, there are vast differences in being a lead pastor compared to a staff member, but I didn't know how much my ministry style would change in this process. From the very beginning, Jennifer and I prayed that God would shape Discover Life into the ministry that our community needed. We didn't want to duplicate what others were doing, but truly fill the gap spiritually. He has done that, and has changed us in the process. DLC doesn't look like me, and I have grown to embrace diversity and balance in our ministry. We think a little differently than we use to, I preach differently for sure. I feel differently about situations than I used to and I understand every senior pastor I ever worked for. God has shaken me and caused more change in me than I ever expected!
#5. I DIDN'T KNOW I WOULD FEEL THIS WAY... about my future.
Before Discover Life Church, I had aspirations. I was going places, in my mind anyway. I was very focused on a certain plan for my ministry and my family. That has all changed now. I can honestly say, I have no preconceived ideas about what my future holds! I have relinquished that portion of my life to God's hands... all of my life. This is probably the best lesson from the whole journey. God is truly in control and you never know where He will take you or what He will do to sustain you. True surrender is often mistaken for "successful position" and Christian notoriety. The real trenches of ministry, life-by-life, yields the greatest reward. I didn't know that I would feel this way about my dreams. I still have dreams, but they are more mission based and passion driven than ever before. The most satisfying part is to see one life turned around for Jesus. And I am reminded, that is why we are here.
I guess I would sum it up to say that planting DLC has taught me a great deal, but the most important thing it has taught me is to be "On Mission" for Jesus Christ every day. As He increases in importance in my life, I continue to decrease. That is exactly what He intends to happen. Planting a church is a lot of things, but it is certainly not predictable! The great challenge for each of us is to embrace the calling that God has placed before us, and then, without fear, jump in with both feet! There is no greater journey than that.
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