Church planting is inherently future-oriented, and planning is commended in God’s Word (Prov. 21:5). A church planter who doesn’t prepare for the future is a contradiction in terms.
And yet we must guard against being dominated by what’s to come. An unhealthy focus on the future can cause us to miss the God-given opportunities of today.
An unhealthy focus on the future can cause us to miss the God-given opportunities of today.
I can struggle with this temptation, though, focusing on the future to the detriment of the present. And this has affected our church plant in (at least) a few negative ways.
Plant or Disciple?
In an effort to urgently plant churches, I’ve discovered how easy it is to pit church-planting against disciple-making.
Early in our church plant, I foolishly believed those who said, “Once the church is planted, your people will automatically begin sharing their faith, discipling one another, and engaging in mission.” I allowed that thinking to permeate our own plans, at least in part, because I was snowed under: working full-time, raising a family, and trying to plant a church. In retrospect, I wish I’d more diligently questioned such assumptions.
As church planters, we must guard against making the planting of a physical location more important than teaching and fostering a culture of discipleship in our churches. And of course, these two things need not be at odds.
Shepherd Your Spouse
My wife is my greatest advocate and friend. She’s been part of this with me from the beginning—we’ve pushed one another, cried together, and encouraged one another. On more occasions than I can count, she’s reminded me of the liberating truth that God loves me on the basis of the finished work of his Son, not on how much I achieve in ministry.
Such reminders were crucial early in our plant, when we were just figuring things out. My wife managed a plethora of responsibilities: from updating our website, to running the kids program, to trying to figure out how to track our early giving and managing our next-to-nothing church finances. She did all of this—and more—with gentleness and grace. And that’s not to mention the responsibility of mothering our kids and welcoming people into our home on a consistent basis.
And then our church began to grow. People were coming to faith and maturing in Christ. We were thrilled. But I failed to see how this change would affect my wife—as the church grew and leaders were raised up, she was inadvertently pushed to the side.
Don’t get me wrong: She was delighted to see people stepping into leadership, and she knew the importance of equipping people for ministry. But there was still a kind of grieving that she needed to go through as things changed.
So don’t underestimate the internal pain and loneliness your spouse may experience as she navigates new seasons of ministry. Being overly future-focused can cause you to miss your spouse’s present needs. Brother pastor, if you don’t care deeply for your wife in the midst of change, she may end up feeling isolated, unwanted, and used.
Grace for Today
The future orientation of church-planting can lead us to miss the moment—those times God is powerfully at work—because we’re always running swiftly to the “next thing.” Planting a church isn’t just about engaging people once you get your discipleship plan together or once you’ve reached a certain size. No matter what stage you’re at in planting, ask yourself: Who has God put in front of me now to love and serve?
At times I’ve viewed the people God has graciously allowed me to shepherd as either an obstacle to my plans or a vehicle to meet my church-planting goals. This is wrong, and I’ve had to repent of it.
A faithful shepherd is more concerned about the one needy sheep in his flock than the 99 tasks on his list.
But your sheep are not tasks to be managed; they are people to be shepherded and loved. You’ll always have a to-do list. It will often be full. But a faithful shepherd is more concerned about the one needy sheep in his flock than the 99 tasks on his list.
I’ve missed so many of those evidences of God’s grace today because I was so focused on tomorrow. I’ve discovered that much of my discouragement in church-planting has come because I’ve overlooked God’s small, but powerful, daily graces. In short, I’ve sacrificed the present for the future, leading to seasons of discontentment marked by gross ingratitude.
Power of the Present
Church planting is not all about the future. It’s also about today. Like the saying “hindsight is 20/20,” some things seem obvious to me now that weren’t so from the outset.
Yes, be future-oriented. It’s a good thing. But as you look to the future, don’t miss today. After all, God gives grace in daily measures. And we can entrust every tomorrow to him (Matt 6:25–34).