“Church planting is hard work.”
I often heard this before we planted our church. I agreed and prepared for the challenge by reading books and talking with other pastors. But then we planted and I thought, Man, this is hard work. What the heck?
The reality of spiritual warfare, of more work than workers, and of never-ending needs such as money, space, leaders, and equipment make church planting grueling work. But there’s another reason why it’s so challenging. It took me a while to realize this, but my greatest obstacle in church planting is me.
If I’m unwilling to embrace my own need for Christ, I become the hindrance to his work in my local church. It’s easy to blur the line between exalting Christ so he’s seen and known, and exalting him so I’m seen and known.
In Luke 9:1–17, Jesus launches his disciples into public ministry. He sends them out to proclaim the kingdom, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Surprisingly, Jesus tells them to “take nothing” for their journey—no money, staff, or food. He sends them out, sans resources, and when they return, they marvel at all the work they have done.
Immediately, a hungry crowd surrounds them. Jesus instructs the disciples to feed the crowd, but they can’t. So he feeds them. The people eat and are satisfied. The disciples were busy marveling at what they had done, but Jesus exposes their inability to do anything on their own (John 15:5).
Jesus meets my stubborn hold on my plans with his generous grace, inviting me to trust him.
Like the disciples, our greatest problem isn’t a resource problem. We can be sent out with scant resources and still see spectacular fruit. What if our lack of resources isn’t about problems, but about glory? What if our neediness is about glorifying God through desperate dependence on him to provide?
As we depend on God for spiritual provision, we honor him. Christ’s sufficiency is thereby exalted in our insufficiency.
On our third Sunday as a new church plant, we grew from 22 to 64 people. I was ecstatic! Then a woman clearly under the influence of heavy narcotics walked into our gathering, and I was confronted with something seminary hadn’t prepared me for. Obviously we desired to love her, and hoped that she would see Christ through us. But she completely disrupted our worship that day.
She was likely using drugs in our bathroom. She banged on a steel door with a hammer and then went into the children’s classroom, prompting someone to shout in the middle of our gathering, “She’s in the children’s ministry; she’s with the kids!” Nothing serious occurred, but the following Sunday, only 23 people showed up.
That Sunday, I went home devastated. Why would God allow this to happen? The whole week’s planning was derailed by her erratic behavior. I sat on my bed and sulked, fearing that our core team might be the only ones returning the following week.
Our unexpected visitor, however, was the best thing that ever happened to our little church. In the midst of my suffering, God comforted me with these truths. Your worth is not found in how great of a church you plant. Your identity is not in being a great teacher. Your value doesn’t come from how successful you are. Your primary purpose is not to be a pastor, but a son.
Your primary purpose is not to be a pastor, but a son.
Through this experience, I learned that God’s plans, however unlikely, are better than mine. His work is done his way. We must release our grip on our expectations and instead embrace his.
Despite the many obstacles in church planting, God has blessed us tremendously. I was externally supported our first two and a half years. A church let us meet in their space, for free, the entire first year. Our sending church also provided a generous grant to help us launch. God gave us men and women ready and willing to sacrifice and lead for the sake of his name.
God gives and sustains every gift of grace. Apart from his grace, our church wouldn’t exist today. Again, of the many obstacles we’ve faced, our greatest was, and sometimes still is, me. I’m tempted to gain the church-planting world . . . and lose my soul. Jesus meets my stubborn hold on my plans with his generous grace, inviting me to trust him. And he sustains my trust.
Church planter, remember why you’re planting. Consider what’s at stake. Resist the temptation to rely on yourself. This is about God’s glory, not yours. It’s done through his ways, not yours. All your obstacles are opportunities to deepen your trust in him. And he is faithful to build his church.