When my son was younger, we had a nightly routine. I would sit on the edge of his bed and read him a story. Next, it was time for a song while I scratched his back. I’d tuck him in and head for the door, but then the questions would come. “Can you check my closets and make sure there’s nothing inside of them? Can you leave the hallway light on? Can you sing me another song? How long are you going to stay awake?”
Worn out from long days, I easily became frustrated in these moments, until I realized what was happening. My son was afraid, and each question was his attempt to keep me in his room a little longer. The moment I walked out his door, his imagination would run wild. But as long as I was near, he knew he had nothing to fear. My presence made all the difference.
It’s one thing to be scared, but being afraid and feeling alone is almost unbearable. My fellow church planters, particularly the newer ones, can identify with this.
We usually experience our deepest fears and anxieties during those first few years of planting. There are so many unknowns. Will anyone come to our church? Will we have enough resources to do the work God’s called us to do? Will people stick with us as we try and find our way? Questions like these run through a new planter’s mind relentlessly.
Presence of Fear
In my first years of planting, the dread almost overwhelmed me. There was the Sunday we had more people on stage leading worship than in the congregation. There was the moment I looked into our offering basket and saw $4 and an Arby’s coupon. Repeatedly, individuals would seem excited about the mission of our new church, but within a few months they’d move on to another one.
While these moments filled me with panic, it was my expectations and assumptions that provoked the most fear in my heart. Maybe I’m not a good enough preacher. We’ll never be able to offer what the church down the street provides. I made enough missteps initially to know that if God was going to build this church, he would do so in spite of my best efforts. My doubts regarding my abilities created a disappointment that felt like a constant friend.
Church planting can be a scary, lonely business. But God has promised to be with us—always—as we proclaim the good news that Christ saves sinners.
So, what was the antidote to these feelings? I began hunting for answers. I attended all the church-planting conferences. I bought coffee for as many planters as I could, looking for the magic pill that would calm my fears. I read more books and listened to more presentations on church planting than I can count. But it took me years to realize I needed a person, not a principle. I needed someone’s presence more than I needed practical advice.
Companionship of Christ
Several Scriptures were foundational for me while planting, especially Matthew 28:18–20. Most planters know how easily churches can get distracted from our mission. Every time I returned to this text, I was reminded of our primary goal, of why we labor despite our fears to plant churches. We’re called to make disciples. As many times as I’d read this text, I realized I’d been ignoring the comfort Jesus provides in verse 20: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That is what was missing in my early days of planting. I felt alone and scared all the time. I felt like this work was entirely on my shoulders. I missed the encouragement Jesus offered his disciples. He didn’t call them to mission without also providing his presence and power.
Nearness of God
When you set out to plant a church, you have no idea what to expect in the coming months. You can allow that uncertainty to drive your imagination to panic-inducing scenarios, or you can let it lead you to God. Like my son who knows he doesn’t have anything to fear when he’s with me, so we should relish and rely on our heavenly Father’s nearness (James 4:8).
Church planting can be a scary, lonely business. But God has promised to be with us—always—as we proclaim the good news that Christ saves sinners. It’s his work, and he’s with us as we go, make, baptize, and teach disciples.
Though you’ll likely walk through many dark days as you establish and grow your faith family, you won’t walk them alone. Your Father is near, and his presence is more than enough to help you keep going when you’re not sure what tomorrow will bring. Press on in Christ, brothers.