“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” I Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)
At a recent network event, my husband made a joke about how he needed a support to talk with once church planting stopped being sexy. Although it got a good laugh from the audience, his comment is a surprisingly accurate description of the church planting process.
We begin the process much like we begin our relationships. There is an appeal in the newness that draws us, and, as we begin to get to know more about church planting, there is often a genuine emotional and spiritual connection. We are hooked.
Every new step in the process has our limbic systems buzzing. We find great gratification as we recruit team members, gather financial support, purchase new equipment, move into a space, and see people who might not otherwise have come to a church walk through our doors and encounter Christ.
It is an amazing and pleasure filled experience…. Until it isn’t.
Like a marriage, there are seasons that don’t feel particularly sexy. The newness wears off, and struggles come.
Money is one of the top stressors on relationships, so it should come as no surprise that one of the biggest reasons church planters start to lose that loving feeling is a lack of resources. Everyone is eager to help out when planters are first getting started, but eventually the new church has to care for itself.
Many pastors find themselves working multiple jobs in order to support their families and the occasional church bill the offering just didn’t cover.
Lack of Growth
After fifteen years of marriage you are still fighting about the same issues. He won’t put the toilet seat down, and she spends too much money on clothes. Why won’t your partner just grow? Sounds a bit like the church doesn’t it?
We have been at it a few years, and the numbers haven’t done much. But the lack of fruit in some members’ lives is much harder on your spirit than the slow pace of growth in attendance. People doubt God when things get tough, pull back on their service, or walk away from the church.
Forgetting the Reasons We Fell in Love
With all the financial strain and the slow or stagnant progress, church planting can lose its luster. It stops being sexy, and it just feels like a lot of work. You may even question what is keeping you in it.
What to do?
Ministry and marriage aren’t always sexy. They require grit, commitment, and a deep knowledge of God’s control. The work is hard, but the reward is great.
Get help- see a counselor, pray, read all the available resources- particularly the Bible, and talk to others who have been there. You aren’t alone in the struggle, and God has called us to community. I have often said that community is a mathematical phenomenon because it divides our struggles and multiplies our joy.
Rekindle the flame- make a list of all the miraculous ways God provided for your church and your family, listen to old testimony videos people made about your church, look at pictures from the beginning to now, and go on dates. When I say go on dates, I mean it. Set up a romantic dinner with your spouse. Go sit on the lawn of the space you tear down and set up or use the foyer of your permanent location and dream for the future. Pray together over the location and the people. Laugh about the disasters, cry about the heartbreaks, and talk about everything that is going right.
Keep God at the center– Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT) says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” Paul is talking to slaves, but it is in a section of scripture where he is giving practical advice to all believers on how to live life with God at the center. We all went into Church planting for the same primary reason- God called us to it. We can let all the expectations of others and the expectations we have placed on ourselves slip away. We have one Master, and he is proud of our labors.