My Rearview Mirror: On Planting a Church

As a church, we’re just shy of 13 years old. That’s hard for me to believe, for it seems like just yesterday there were six of us around a kitchen table committing to planting a church, not knowing if anyone else would even join us. But they did. Through regeneration and relocation, God birthed a body to the glory of his name in the power of his Spirit and whose Head is his Son.

That passage of time has given me reason to ponder more intently a question I’ve received frequently during this first 12+years. It goes something like this: “So what advice would you give me if I was going to plant a church?” Sometimes it’s worded like, “What do you wish you would have done differently?” or even “what things would you not change if you did all again?” However the question is asked, it always prompts me to take a look in my rearview mirror and think about the ups and downs, failure and victories, good and bad, wins and losses. And hear this clearly — all of those have been part of the journey. Hurts, joys, valleys, mountaintops — you travel through them all.

In mentally rummaging through this trip, I began itemizing the things, both positive and negative, that made those miles unbelievably delightful or unbearably dutiful. What did we do that showed itself to be invaluable? What should we not have done that proved too costly?  What would I encourage others to do? Not to do? Well, here’s the list, raw and uncensored. But you’ll get it incrementally, as I hope to lay out these items periodically in what I’m calling “My Rearview Mirror” series of posts. In these posts I’ll take a look back at the birth and growth of this church God planted back in 2004.  Whatever you can glean or learn, laugh at or avoid, help yourself.

However, before I get to the first nugget on the list, an umbrella comment is worth noting. First and foremost, church planting is a supernatural endeavor; it is a work of the Spirit of God, and this understanding should pervade and overarch everything you do. Natural elements like strategy, demographics, location, finances, personalities—all that may have a part in the equation somewhere, but the hard truth is that nothing of any real value will occur if God’s Spirit doesn’t empower, anoint, and gift the people for the task of making disciples for the glory of God. That’s why the church planter and church planting team have to exhibit incredible discernment and courage in following God’s leading. Yes, God’s direction! Not yours, the latest author’s, the trendiest speaker’s, the popular podcaster’s, or the techiest Tweeter’s. So ask yourself—can you detect clearly the voice of the shepherd? Do you hear God’s Spirit as he speaks and leads? Do you pray regularly for God’s unavoidable power? Do you seek the spiritual gifts most beneficial to the church? Are you filled with and controlled by God the Holy Spirit? Is prayer, individually and corporately, more than a way to open meetings? Do you blatantly and boldly ask God to show you what to do with full faith that he will? And with full intentions to obey unconditionally?

Here’s why those questions (and others like them) matter: Church planting is currently in vogue; it’s trendy and popular. Fadish. Thus, the church planting market is flooded with tips, tricks, and tools to do exactly that – plant a church – in “three easy steps” (hyperbole intended). But without the breath of God upon our souls and efforts, it’s a dead, religious exercise. Should you read books on church planting? Yes. Attend seminars on launching a church? By all means. Seek a mentor to help you with leading a new body? For sure. But all of those fall a far, distant second to the preeminent voice you need to hear—God’s!—and the indispensable power you need to have—His Spirit’s!

This is the single overarching, non-negotiable conviction I—we—had as we took the step of launching a new church: God’s voice above all other voices. It has affected so many things, usually in a counter-intuitive manner. Things as “big” as where we initially met, or as “little” as why we wrap up our children’s ministry each November and April; things that relate to how we give our offerings or when we take Communion; things that pertain to how we structure our services or why we hire the way we do. Each of these things has a story, and each story tells how God uniquely and powerfully led this specific faith family. It’s what he was—and is—calling us to be and do.

Which is precisely why I didn’t just write the stories (at least not yet; maybe someday). Oh, there are references to some, but what I discovered happening as I peered through the rearview mirror was a “spilling out” of fundamental concepts I had either come to believe or further affirmed; the principles behind the practices. And that’s ultimately a good thing because it, ideally, prompts those after us to mind the principles, not simply mimic the practices.

You see, there’s no cut-and-paste option for church planters. Sure, you can implement the principles below, but exactly how and when and where—well, that’s the joy of the journey! That’s the adventure of hearing God’s voice in specific, precise ways—above the noise of all other voices and vices—so that you are supernaturally gifted and corporately crafted for maximum impact right where you are. And make no mistake—every church plant journey is specifically individual. Precisely unique. Customized. And it should be. For God is bringing together and building up a specific gathering of grace-saved followers—his family—who will spiritually reproduce, not a franchised entity of mere physical beings who will only produce.

Now to the list (finally!). Rearview Mirror #1.

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