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Church Planter, Change Is Hard. And Good.

Rosalind Chang on Unsplash
Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

To my delight, my almost-2-year-old daughter has developed a love for The Lion King. It means I have an excuse to re-watch what is, for many reasons, one of my favorite movies.

The other day, an exchange between Simba and Rafiki stood out to me:

Simba: “Looks like the winds are changing.”

Rafiki: “Ahh. Change is good.”

Simba: “Yes, but it’s not easy.”

Good, but not easy. Isn’t that the truth?

It’s easy to take for granted the familiar. When the status quo is maintained, we can drift into unawareness of what’s really important to us—what we’re living for, what’s driving our decisions, what we’re placing a premium on. When the status quo is interrupted, though, everything changes.

Moving to a new place makes you realize what you took for granted in your previous community. Losing a loved one confronts us with what really matters in life. Bringing home your first child turns your priorities upside-down (and makes you treasure sleep in a new way).

Simply put, change can show us where we’re placing our value—and where that value is perhaps misplaced. It’s no wonder, then, that God often uses change to both reveal and also refine our value systems. We all know our priorities are not always in line with God’s. Change can be a good, albeit difficult, way of aligning them.

And few things require the hard work of change like the crucible of church planting.

Change in Church Planting

Church planting provides a seedbed for God to garden our hearts. Sometimes, gardening means nurturing what you want to see grow. Other times, though, it means pruning—cutting back what will eventually bring the plant to ruin.

When we plant a church, we’re creating space for God to strip away misplaced affections—including our own—and foster a retuned, reprioritized heart for the church’s true purpose. In a culture of poisonous spiritual consumerism, church planting can be a vital antidote.

When we plant a church, we’re creating a space for God to strip away misplaced affections.

The volunteers who must set up a school or meeting hall learn a valuable lesson about what church really is: a people, not a building. The congregation that needs everyone involved is reminded that church is ultimately about serving, not being served. Sunday gatherings devoid of the latest technology and sound equipment remind us that worship is about heart posture, not decibel level.

Church planting is difficult. It’s unfamiliar. It requires flexibility and sacrifice. So when the world says “live for self”—and when so many churches have colluded with that same message—church planting can provide a good (if painful) reminder that we are summoned to die to self.

How to Lead Others through Change

So the role of the church-planting pastor will often involve leading people through the hard work of change. Those who plant with you or join your church are giving up what they’re used to. Again, this is a good thing, but it can present unique challenges. When leading people through change, remember two things.

1. Balance conviction with patience.

Expecting everyone in your church to be excited about everything in your church isn’t faithfulness; it’s naïveté. While we mustn’t abandon our convictions about what a church is and how it should function, we must lead toward that conviction with grace, realizing that realigning values often takes time.

Expecting everyone in your church to be excited about everything in your church isn’t faithfulness; it’s naïveté.

Those planting with you may be giving up a lifetime of familiarity in previous church contexts. Shepherding them through the newness of church planting—new worship styles, new structures, new community—ought to be done graciously and gently. Be firm in your convictions, of course. Just make sure one conviction is to lead people with patience.

2. Be willing to change yourself.

Being willing to change when you’re wrong is something everyone should do. Being willing to change even if you’re right is something leaders should do. I’m not saying to give up on foundational convictions or cede ground on crucial matters. Lines in the sand are often necessary. But when it comes to issues of secondary importance, surrendering our preferences can be more effective than trying to conform others to them.

Being willing to change when you’re wrong is something everyone should do. Being willing to change even if you’re right is something leaders should do.

The secret here is looking to the Great Shepherd:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5–7)

The incarnation was the greatest change in human history. No one has ever given up more than God the Son gave up for us. If anyone could say, “I’m right; now fall in line!” it was him. And yet he humbled himself, met us where we were, and came to serve (Mark 10:45).

In the course of planting a church, there will be many times you notice a gap between where people’s affections and priorities are and where they should be. Instead of allowing that to drive you to frustration and despair, take a moment to thank God for the good, difficult work of change in their hearts—and in yours.

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