What’s the biggest issue that a church planter faces? Is it money, busyness, a lack of support? These are real issues. But they’re not the main one.
I’m convinced that the biggest issue that church planters face is an internal one. It’s our tendency to depend on ourselves rather than on God. This results in tremendous stress in the church planter’s life and ministry.
I’ve spent 20 years pastoring an established church. The dynamics in that experience were completely different. There were structures in place to support ministry, things were already going.
I knew that starting a church from scratch would be different, but I don’t think I was prepared for the pressure I’d feel.
I began to notice the pressure I was putting on myself to make things happen. There are healthy kinds of pressure — I need to work hard as a church planter if anything is going to happen. But I’m talking about a different kind of pressure: the pressure to measure up, to prove myself, and to show that I’m equal to the task.
Have you ever spent time with a driven person? They’re not a lot of fun. They work too hard and take themselves too seriously. They look like they’re on the verge of snapping, and they don’t know how to relax. Now, picture this person as a church planter, and think about the type of church that will grow under this person’s ministry.
It’s not an attractive picture.
I’ve learned that I’m not alone. Church planting has a way of revealing our weaknesses. As Brian and Amy Bloye write in their book It’s Personal, “Church planting will expose every weakness in you. It will bring every flaw to the surface and put it on public display. Check your pride at the door.”
What can we do about this problem? I’m still learning, but I think there are at least three immediate things to do that will help.
First, confess this as a problem. Naming and owning an issue is a huge step, and it’s a lot better than denial. I frequently find myself praying and journaling these days about my fears in church planting and the subtle pressure I feel to make things happen. Acknowledging this issue before God and others helps me to deal honestly with my struggle, and it brings God’s grace and power to bear on my fears.
Seek honest feedback from others. My wife is good at this. She will let me know if I start to take on too much stress. I can’t say I enjoy being confronted, but it’s helped me to recognize the stress that I’m carrying that I don’t always see myself.
Redefine your job. I’m tempted to think that my job right now is to raise funds, build a launch team, and evangelize. Those are all good and important things, but they shouldn’t be my main focus right now. Adam Sinnett, a church planter in Seattle, says: “Fight to remain Jesus-centred, not planting-centred. It is easy to make planting the focus, and miss God.” Planting should come out of the overflow of my relationship with God. My biggest job right now is to grow in my relationship with God so that everything else I do — fundraising, team-building, leading, and evangelizing — is an outgrowth of a deepening relationship with God.
I can’t say that I’ve stopped struggling, but I’m getting better at recognizing the problem and responding appropriately. Church planting is the daily battle to rely on God’s strength rather than my own amidst all the struggles and pressures of ministry.
Darryl Dash is a Fellowship Baptist pastor, currently planting Liberty Grace Church in downtown Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.