Archives For Church Planting

I’d give it all for one good friend.”
– Howard Hughes when asked about his wealth of 4 billion dollars

At a pastors’ retreat this summer I had lunch with one of my church planter friends who wanted some counsel. Throughout the conversation he admitted to struggling personally, emotionally, and ministerially. I really felt for him because I was walking through a fairly tough year myself. Indeed, it was the reason he wanted to chat specifically with me. Early in the course of our conversation I asked, “Do you have any friends there?” Almost immediately he soberly replied, “No. I don’t have any friends here. I’m incredibly lonely.” He knew exactly what I was asking. He knew I wasn’t referring to amiable people in his neighborhood or even welcoming members of his church. He knew I asked if he had solid, deep, transparent friends around him that he could confide in, trust, and lean upon. The reason I asked about his close friendships isn’t because the lack of them was the cause of his struggles but because good friends greatly blunt the great struggles many pastors experience in ministry.

Friendships are God’s way of giving us emotional safety nets. They are really gifts of grace to us by Jesus. Proverbs 18:24 tells us, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” and Proverbs 27:17 reads, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” It’s pretty clear that we can have friends – I mean really close friends who are as close as family – friends who make us better, friends who sharpen us. I call these kinds of friends someone’s Core relationships . They are the inner circle of relationships surrounded by the outer circles of Friends then Acquaintances. The Core are those who know your soul, your secrets, your struggles. You trust they would do anything for you. These are the people you’d give your kids if something happened to you. They’re like family, “closer than a brother.”

But they are hard to come by, especially if you are a pastor. Add on, for many, the already lonely venture of planting a church and you’ve got the recipe for some serious relational challenges. While it’s hard not to sound self-serving about this, the truth is that no one knows what it’s like to sit in your seat. To feel the weight of responsibility, the unceasing pressure of the task, the demands of being “on” as pastor 24 hrs/day, and a thousand other things that come with the role.

Consequently, the temptation is to run to isolation and hide ourselves away emotionally. We put on masks affixed with smiles and utter pleasant words which lead people to think we never struggle in ministry. The idea is that our lack of transparency in the present will save us greater grief in the future. We don’t want our congregants to think wrongly of us, that we’re incompetent to the task of pastoring when the truth is pastoring is incredibly taxing on us in more ways that we can innumerate. But the illusion of isolation is you think you’re protecting yourself when, in reality, you’re making yourself more vulnerable to the enemy’s attack. The hole only gets deeper, the loneliness redoubles, and our hearts shrink inwardly from all the things we love. Even worse, some turn to medicating their situations with things like food, drink, or even porn. This is the true product of isolation.

Brave pastors are intentional at cultivating friendships.

Brave pastors find men who can understand them, meet them where they are, and schedule time with them. Often they are other guys in ministry who know the unique challenges that pastoring a church brings. (This goes true for their wives as well). In other words, they “get it” because you share the same iron of pastoring. Having these kind of Core friendships are ways we come up for air when we’ve been swimming in the depths of ministry. They help release tension by talking over coffee, spending time in prayer together, or simply having a good time with them in someplace fun. These are the guys who know your junk, your hangups, your failures and still love you. They can encourage you but also call you out when needed.

Brave pastors intentionally cultivate friendships in order to fight the temptation of isolation. I’ve tried to it. It’s saved me more times than I’d like to admit. How isolated are you? Who knows your junk? Don’t commit the sin of poor stewardship for not developing a Core. Your health, your family, and your ministry depend on it. Leverage the grace of friendships so that you might pastor for the long haul. That’s what brave pastors do.

 

 

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself – and to all who will notice – that I am important.
– Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

There is no question leading or planting a church is to embrace a whirlwind of people, events, and countless other things demanding your time. It’s inevitable. In my own world, especially in the early years, my week was full of counseling congregants, meetings with ministry teams, lunch dates with members, setting up chairs in the school where we were meeting, not to mention finding time for sermon prep.

Busyness not only was a given but I started to make it my normal, and not just externally but internally as well. I thought a sign of health and growth as a pastor was to live life going a 1,000 miles an hour. I believed it communicated I was on the right track, making progress, and honoring God with every second.

What I didn’t realize is that if pastors aren’t careful, doing the work of Jesus in the church can kill the work of Jesus in them. When life is a blur of activity with little to no reflection and quiet with Christ the soul withers. We  start listening to every voice but the One which ultimately matters. Leadership and ministry books are read by the dozens while the Scriptures are only opened for preparing messages. We begin to talk a lot about God to others but seldom make time for him to talk to us. I know I’ve been guilty of living this way.

There is a reason why God says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” The context finds Israel in the midst of perilous times, experiencing conflict from the nations around them. Surely it was a hurried, anxious, frenetic season. Yet, in the midst of all this craziness, God calls his people to slow down, stop striving, be still, and reflect on the truth of who he is!

I’m reminded of the words in 1 Kings 19:11-12 describing the prophet Elijah’s interaction with the God of the Universe:

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

What is true is for Elijah often is true for us: God speaks not in the roar but the whisper. And if we think a hurried, anxious, frenetic life in ministry is healthy, we’ve likely succumbed to the temptation of busyness. It only appears we’re getting things done while our interior life greatly suffers. As Eugene Peterson notes, busyness gives the appearance of significance. Frankly, a bursting-at-the-seams calendar may indicate poor stewardship of our friends, our family, and even our faith. Always being busy strands us in the desert waste where God’s voice is hard to hear.

That’s why brave pastors fight the temptation of busyness by embracing slowness.

Jesus did. After a long day of ministry Jesus grabbed his disciples and told them in Mk. 6:31, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Jesus knew the value of taking a detour and finding a quiet place in the middle of the hubbub of ministry. He and his disciples were running around doing all kinds of great things for the kingdom and Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here!” He didn’t do this for his followers but himself as well. Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Mark 1:35 adds another snapshot of Christ, saying, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” If slowing down was good for the King of Glory then surely it must be good for those who follow that king.

Be brave and decide to fight the temptation of busyness. Find a distraction-free zone where you can get alone and quiet on a regular basis. Cut down your time on media and open your Bible a bit more. Periodically not only take time off but time away as well. Pastors need places to go and rhythms to embrace where they can move from the voices to the Voice, from the thousand words to the one Word.

Brave pastors embrace slowness.

I enjoy Latin American culture. It is complicated, unique, fascinating. Latinos are known as warm, vibrant, and gracious people. As a Texan, where Anglos have ceased to be a majority and three out of every ten Texans speaks Spanish, 1 I feel a greater connection to my Latino friends than maybe those not from the Southwestern United States. Indeed, our “national” food in the Lone Star State is a marriage between cultures: Tex-Mex. I’ve even begun to teach myself Spanish over the last few years. I not only find it a beautiful language but one that better connects me to my Latino friends. So, when I was asked to go to Central America to connect with potential church planters, I jumped at the chance.

Last week I had the privilege of being a part of Plantadores, the first Acts 29 Network Conference held in Spanish-speaking Latin America. The conference was hosted in Guatemala City at Casa de Libertad, an Acts 29 member church led by Pastor Francisco Bendfeldt. He and Jay Bauman, an Acts 29 pastor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are co-directors of the fledgling Acts 29 Latin American region. In my two days spent at the conference, I was blown away by what I experienced.

The first thing I noticed was the passion Francisco and his team at Casa de Libertad had for planting gospel-centered churches all throughout Central America. It’s been said that much of Latin America is experiencing a wave of Protestantism unseen in a history dominated by colonial Catholicism. Today, Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and others boast of a population that surveys itself as 40 to 50% Christian. But these numbers can be somewhat misleading. The predominant Christian influence is Pentecostalism and, from what one hears, most is of the dangerous prosperity gospel. For example, I was told that 90% of Guatemalans who identify themselves as Christians believe that the ‘health/wealth’ message of the prosperity movement is sound biblical, Christianity. This notion was affirmed in many other conversations with Hondurans, Venezuelans, and other Latin American pastors at the conference. This only served to deepen the resolve of Francisco and his team to develop and commission church planters from Casa in addition to raising the call to Central and South Americans to plant gospel-centered churches.

[L-R] Me, Byron Vaughn, Jay Bauman, Phil Taylor, Francisco Bendfeldt

The vibrancy of Christianity, which had been located in North America for the last few centuries, is now shifting to places like China, Africa, and the countries of Central and South America. This should call us to greater fervency to see gospel-centered works planted in these regions (and others) – even more so when we see the Spirit stir up men young and old who desire to plant churches in these areas. To wait is to allow other works to hamstring new converts through things like prosperity theology, the chains of legalism, or other harmful teachings. To enjoin the Acts 29 church planting movement (among others) is to be a voice for gospel-centrality, the sovereignty of God in salvation, and the multiplication of local churches. And with around 50% of all Hispanic adults in the US being foreign born, 2 helping plant churches in Latin America may be a chance to impact the United States for the gospel in the future.

It is for reasons like these, that my gratitude only deepened for Francisco, Jay, and the other men and women gathered for the purpose of planting gospel-centered congregations from Mexico to Argentina. It’s also why it felt, from an Acts 29 Network point of view, somewhat an historic moment to conclude the conference with an invitation for my fellow Latin American brothers to not only plant churches but to do so with Acts 29. From what I’m seeing and hearing from my Latin America friends, it seems like something really hopeful may be afoot. Oh that the Spirit of God would not only stir up a movement of church planters committed to planting healthy churches but believers in the United States and elsewhere who would be willing to give aid to that cause for the good of Christ’s church and the glory of God.

UPDATE (3/11/15): For a report on this conference from The Gospel Coalition

Notes:

  1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/24/in-2014-latinos-will-surpass-whites-as-largest-racialethnic-group-in-california/
  2. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2014/04/29/hispanic-nativity-shift/