leading well

3 things we've learned starting a church


A wise church planter told me that church planting would depend more on God growing my heart than God growing His church. “Jesus will always build His church. It’s up to us if we allow Him to grow us in the process.” I’ve taken those words to heart. The last 30 months have been some of the most exciting and exhausting of my life. I’ve enjoyed incredible highs and endured lonely lows. I’ve fully realized my capacity and limits. I’ve come face to face with my faults and weaknesses. While it’s still fresh, I’d like to share some broad insights that I’ve gained over the last 2+ years. In the coming weeks I hope to share more specific insights. Here's my first 3.

We can’t do anything alone

Whether you’re leading a group, managing a team or pastoring a church, you need someone who is pouring into you. I have a coach, an accountability network and close friends that keep me honest. I’m prone to do things on my own. It’s hard to let people do what I can do myself. Even more difficult to let people get close enough to know me. I believe there are 3 types of people we need in our lives:

  1. THOSE AHEAD OF US: You need someone who’s been where you’re heading. You need their insight and encouragement. You need their honesty. Many will tell you theory. these people will tell you experience. It sounds like “here’s what I’ve seen…” more than it sounds like “here’s what I think…”
  2. THOSE BESIDE US: Who do you have in your corner that’s doing what you’re doing? Most of you know I have been blessed with some real advantages. Kevin Bass is my unfair advantage. When he’s working with you he makes everyone look good. He’s also a super encourager of people. You need some friends who are in the thick of it with you. People you can count on. People who love and accept you even though they’ve seen you at your worst. You need someone who can keep you humble and accountable.
  3. THOSE BEHIND US: The kingdom isn’t just for you, today. It’s been entrusted to us for the next generation, tomorrow. Who are you strategically spending your time with? Who can you mentor, encourage and lead? Someone needs your expertise, experience and guidance. Don’t be selfish and spend all your time with the first 2 people I mentioned. Find someone to help along the way.


We need all the support we can get

We planted through a denomination. We received training from multiple organizations. We meet often with individuals from different movements for leadership development and encouragement. We wish we could figure everything out on our own. We can’t. Well, maybe we could, but it would take decades. We’ve been blessed to take years of experience from other planters/planting groups and repurpose it for our context. If you're trying to lead within your own knowledge, experience or skill, you're capping yourself. There are people who've done what you're trying to do. Reach out to them. We bought coffee and meals for countless pastors, leaders, planters, business owners and coaches. Every one of them has something different to offer. It's been said, "Show me your 5 friends and I'll show you where you'll be in 5 years." I want to encourage you to get out there and build or find a network that can support and develop you. If you're trying to lead a church, plant a work or start a business, you'll need different networks for different things. There are leaders I spend time with for spiritual wisdom. There are planters I depend on for specific insight into an issue I'm facing. There are church planting groups I depend on for training and support. There are hundreds of individual sponsors who pray for our ministry often. All of these networks work together to build Jesus' church in our zip code. Find a network. Work the network. It's 2018. There's no excuse for trying to do something with no support network.

Nothing can replace

your relationship with Jesus

My backyard is my favorite spot. When I gave my wife a tour of our backyard in 2013 it wasn’t much to look at. I didn’t take her inside the house that day either. Nothing good would come from her seeing that wreck. The brick cape cod at the end of Tyler Crescent had been empty for a few years. The previous owner had abandoned it mid renovation. There wasn’t a kitchen. The yard looked like a jungle. I had to rent a bobcat to tame that jungle. She and I arrived in the late afternoon to see the sunset. That’s all this house had to offer: a view. But I knew. This would be the yard we’d enjoy. This would be our next home. This jungle was where I’d spend some time alone with God.

Over the last few years I’ve had some long afternoon talks with God in that backyard. Occasionally I’ll be mowing, raking or plugging while we talk. Often, I’m just pacing around as God works to soften or direct my heart. I’ve had some difficult conversations with God watching the sun set in my yard. I’ve enjoyed some incredible answers to prayer walking in circles on our little piece of Portsmouth. I’ve been blessed with an incredible spouse, great training, strong support and a next-level team. To be clear, I've got more than a few unique advantages. None of those advantages can ever replace my personal relationship with God. Your relationship with God can take you farther, longer than any unfair advantage in your skillset. Your (lack of) relationship with God can also undercut every advantage in your skillset. Get a team. Find a support network. But trust God, not the process.


Three challenges in building a team

In our context team building is crucial, but it's also voluntary. We aren't building a team of staff members or employees. We're asking people to join us in planting a church. However, many of the challenges we're facing repeat themselves in any context of team building.

Challenge 1 getting everyone behind the vision

You get the vision. Does your team? It took us a few months to get our team behind the vision. I once heard it said, "when you're tired of stating the vision, your team is just about to get it." This is so true. Often people have their own vision of your business, goals, team or church. As leaders we have to spend time crafting and casting the vision we want people to catch.

Challenge 2 putting the right people in the right places

Our church plant team consists of 30 young adults. There's no shortage of passion and excitement. Before we launch in 2016, we have to get the right people in the right places. Some are gifted in the arts (music, drama, design). Others are just natural conversationalists. We all have ideas about who goes where, but it's often surprising who ends up being the best fit for different roles. Here's a tip I learned early: Give away roles, not titles. Once someone has a title like "project manager" or "service coordinator" they assume that's their position forever. You'll be kicking yourself when someone more gifted and inclined to that position shows up 6-18 months into the launch of your business, church or organization. Here's how I phrase it: "________ will serve as our service project coordinator starting out. We are so thankful for _______'s willingness to serve in this capacity during this season."

Challenge 3 maintaining momentum and vision

Everyone is excited about launching. The weeks following are key to a successful launch. Regardless of what you're launching, if you can't maintain momentum and vision after the excitement wears off, you're in trouble. In our context (church planting), we focus on momentum builders throughout the year. For instance we push big events or service projects. Find something for people to get excited about and space them throughout the year. Make sure those events fall in line with your vision. Momentum is hard to get and easy to lose, but vision can help you decide which kind of momentum you want. Busyness for busy's sake isn't momentum. 


Hey if you're a Christian, consider praying for us as we launch a new church in the next 100 days.