Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Church planting journey:the breaking process

I was chatting with Jeff Jamison via facebook about the experience of church planting and wanting to give up and go back to where I came from. He shared with me "Many planters do give up and "go home". My failed plant pastor did. I still love him, but that failure has haunted him since and has been a predictor of the last few years ministry failures."

Having never planted a church before this one, I can say I feel the frustration of that planter who "failed and went home." I have been there several times these past 3 years, almost walked out on my wife and family, even felt like jumping in the Hudson River (on more than one occasion). Then God got ahold of me and showed me, it's not about me, but about what he wants to do in this community He has sent me (and my family) to and in the hearts and lives of broken people who live here. I don't believe God sends anyone to fail. I do believe many men jump into church planting without thinking and praying it through. I also believe the assessment processes that many church planting entities use are flawed. From my own experience, God gave me a burden for a particular people in a particular place; Troy, NY, the city of my birth, youth, and at least half of my adult life. This burden started out small, but grew as I went through seminary and served on staff at a Rescue Mission for 11 years. Then came vision, followed by strategy, and then provision. But, God had to break me of my own self-centered mindset and thoughts of what I wanted to do; even seemingly good "church planting" ideas. I am learning that I never truly own the vision God is showing me. It is His when He gives it, and it is His throughout the process. I may be the possessor of the vision He has given me, yet I am merely the vessel He has poured His vision into. There is a sense of ownership that develops within the church planter, but the vision is God's. He is giving me glimpses of what He wants to do, but He has not shown me the big picture completely. Who can contain, within their own finite human brain, all that God can and will do?

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Eph.3:20 NLT)

This breaking process is very painful and comes with much sacrifice. Men need to know this and be prepared for this before they "test the waters" of church planting. Ed Stetzer has said, "if you are not called to plant churches, do not do it! It will ruin you. The Spiritual warfare that comes with it is intense. Satan will sift you like wheat."

But the brighter side is that through that breaking process, God is molding and shaping a usable vessel.

If a potential "church planter" does not have a burden, it is a good indicator that he's not ready, maybe not even called to be a planter. No burden equals no real ownership of the mission. Burden shapes vision. Good ideas are not, neccessarily, vision from God. Mark Batterson uses the terms "Good ideas" and "God ideas" when referring to vision from God vs. good ideas from our brains

I knew in my gut, at the core of my being, three years ago, that God was sending back to Troy. I knew it then, and I knew it all through this breaking process. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt today. That is what has kept me from completely walking away from this. Every time I felt like doing so, God would send me a sign; a phone call with encouraging words, a smiling kid my wife and I had reached out to (2 of them were recently baptized) And I clung to His vision and His voice. Satan has come at us with everything, and he's probably not done yet, although, I sure hope he is, at least for awhile. If he does come knocking on our door again, we know Who to call upon. We know that Jesus loves us, that He called us and sent us to this field of harvest, and that He will not leave us nor forsake us. If we have learned nothing else these past three years, that is an invaluable piece of wisdom we can put into our church planting bank account.

I pray for you, my church planting brethren. Maybe you are going through this breaking process. Need someone to talk to? Give me a call or send me an e-mail. I'd be happy and privileged to help you work through this.