Church planting requires tenacity. Ask anyone who’s done it, and they’ll tell you the responsibility of planting and leading a church is a heavy load. A joyful one, to be sure, but weighty too.
Because of this, church planters are prone to overburden their congregations. It’s easy to misjudge what level of involvement or responsibility members should have. With the sheer magnitude of things to be done, it’s hard to know how much to call members to do.
For some, being involved in a church-planting team will be attractive because of the obvious need. These early adopters can be wonderful supports. And yet, this same sense of urgency may repel others from what seems to be an overwhelming task.
I’ve had several friends tell me, “We could never attend a church plant. It’s just too much work.” At one level, I get it. Planting a church is costly, and it’s right that people feel that cost. Indeed, the costliness will likely root out those looking for an easy ride in the Christian life (as if there is such a thing; Mark 8:34–35).
But that doesn’t eliminate the danger of overloading members of church-planting teams with undue burdens. When there is so much to do, how do we develop and empower people without burning them out?
Vital to any church’s health is encouraging and developing God’s people for service. But it can prove harmful if the expectations given come (1) too fast, (2) are too much, or (3) are too heavy for them to carry.
It’s easy to overload people by expecting significant contributions too quickly. Developing disciples takes time. Note Paul’s instruction to Timothy about the qualifications of an elder: “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5). Intrinsic to the point Paul makes here is that spiritual leadership within the church is developed in the everyday rhythms of faithful discipleship, and is thus evidenced over time.
In the case of elders, we mustn’t make the mistake of loading the spiritual leadership of a church on unprepared shoulders. Having experienced the pain of placing good people into leadership positions too early has taught me the importance of investing in ongoing rhythms of development and incremental growth.
In short, many church planters would do well to slow down.
Many church planters would do well to slow down.
God gives believers the gifts of the Spirit to equip and edify, so that the works of ministry are shared as the Spirit has apportioned (1 Cor. 12:4–8). So as believers mature, they will grow in their capacity to contribute. Don’t expect the spiritual newborns in your church family to contribute like the spiritual parents and grandparents. This may delay some of your plans, but it will pay off in the future.
But what happens when your people are doing too much? Luke 10:38–42 tells of two sisters who hosted Jesus in their home. Martha, who was “distracted with much serving,” grows frustrated with her sister Mary, who elects to remain with Jesus instead of doing chores. So Martha interrupts Jesus: “Tell her to help me!”
Similarly, it’s possible for some in church plants to view others as less committed due to their lack of activity. Jesus’s response to Martha addresses us all: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42). Far from an excuse to sit back and let others do the work for us, this story exhorts us to remember that the work is not the ultimate aim. Jesus is.
Consider the load your people are carrying. Is it drawing them away from Jesus? We don’t want our people to miss out on the best thing because they were overloaded with too many commitments and responsibilities.
Consider the load your people are carrying. Is it drawing them away from Jesus?
A friend and fellow church planter once told me to “pastor the church Jesus has given you.” As a young leader eager for rapid growth, this was timely advice. My church was neither a labor force for “my vision” nor mere bait to attract more people. My church was the people I was summoned to love.
If you’re overworked, reassess. Wearing an overloaded backpack seems fine until you’re required to climb a mountain with it. Can your church afford ministry staff for overloaded volunteers? Can you kill any programs, or streamline any ministries, to lessen the load? Think creatively: Are there ways you can partner with other churches or share resources to accomplish more together? If you’ve come from a mother church, guard your heart against stubborn angularity. Ask for help in areas of weakness. And don’t forget to assess your heart: Is this a mission-critical component of your ministry, or something you can surrender for the health of your church?
The third danger for church planters is overloading our congregations in how we lead. We may exhibit machismo for our exemplary dedication, and overburden those in our care by implicitly suggesting that real faith demands crushing commitment. It doesn’t.
Sadly, my early experience of planting was marked by anxiety that this fledgling church may not make it or have any meaningful gospel influence. I took the full weight of the church on my shoulders—every success and failure became disproportionately personal. Needless to say, our church suffered as my unrealistic expectations stifled involvement. The load I carried was uninviting. It wasn’t until late 2017 that I embraced a simple truth: If Jesus brought us to this community to plant a church for his name’s sake, he will sustain it.
So we began to pray, “Lord, let our church’s reputation be that you are building it.”
If this prayer resonates with you, then stop carrying the load that was never yours to carry. Jesus is inviting you into his work to accomplish his purposes, not yours. Transfer your burdens to him, and find rest for your soul (Matt. 11:28–30).