We need to talk about the church planter’s gifting. We live in an age that substitutes gifting for character or the Holy Spirit’s fire. Unfortunately, however, what often passes as gifting is really just charisma or personality. Gifting is spiritual and is harder to explain and harder to nail down than a charismatic personality.
Now, I realize that you aren’t all as gifted as I am, so it’s almost unfair of me to write about this, but I also believe God has a sense of humor or he wouldn’t have invented farts or talking donkeys. Therefore, I trust He who beat Shrek to the punch, will forgive my sick joke about being so gifted. God knows funny, and sometimes even your sense of humor is a gift.
But that’s exactly what is important to know. Some will think my joke funny, and see it as a form of self-deprecation, while others will misunderstand and think me arrogant. The point is that we’re not all wired the same. God will use men of different temperaments to accomplish the same objectives; namely, to glorify Himself. Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones were two uniquely gifted men greatly used by God, yet they were nothing alike. Likewise, your gifting is going to be different from the leader next to you. He may be able to turn on the waterworks at sad events because he possesses the gift of compassion. You might be the unbreakable rock of machismo, but you can preach circles around him. Another guy may be an incredible administrator who can memorize people’s names and details upon a first meeting, making them feel incredibly loved. Or you might be like the mascot in the chicken suit. You make people laugh.
Temperament and gifting differ from church planter to church planter, and although you’re not a snowflake, you are unique.
It’s all part of God’s sovereign calling of yourself into the ministry, having set you apart from birth, or as Paul sometimes said, “called to be an apostle before the foundation of the world”. Paul was raised with the highest of learning, a mind like Einstein’s, the writing ability of Shakespeare, and the spirituality of…well, Paul. He was unique, and he was uniquely called. And so are you.
Don’t get your head all bigged-up over that, because all of the gifting in the world pales in contrast to your character and walk with God. God can get a donkey to talk for Him, but he needs a human being to be filled with the Spirit to live out the gospel of Jesus. Although I may appear to be side-stepping the issue of gifting, I want you to know that it faced with a choice between character and a preaching gift, I’d pick character. So would Paul. Over speaking with the tongues of angels, moving mountains by faith, raising the dead, and literally burning out for Jesus, Paul would pick love…
He’d pick love.
God, give me love, the greatest of all your gifts.
I may not be a great preacher, administrator, or counselor, but I hear that love never fails.
Why Gifting Isn’t Enough
Church planting is the spiritual equivalent of Boot Camp. You know why they have Boot Camp right? It’s to weed out the sissies. You’ve got to have grace, grit, and gumption to stay on and stick it out as a planter. You need stamina.
My biggest fear for the planters I coach is that they won’t have the stamina to endure the weight of planting. They can preach well, and think that’s all they need. A few months in, and reality hits like Mike Tyson. They realize it’s going to be a long grind, and they peter out.
And here they thought that all they needed was to be gifted.
One of my favorite sayings is “Hard work is better than talent, if talent isn’t working hard”
I’ve said it before but church planting is hard. Sometimes, it’ll wipe the floor with the most gifted of preachers, and eat him for breakfast if he’s not willing to roll up his sleeves and dig in.
For all of the glory stories about church planting, there’s a lot of stuff that planters have to do behind-the-scenes that they don’t want to. It’s usually stuff that they aren’t good at, never saw themselves doing, and quite frankly, don’t have time for. In the end, however, these things must be done…or the church goes belly up. You see, it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that determines the make-or-break.
For example, yesterday, I was setting up a bank account, getting signatures from a lawyer, picking up a check, and doing loads of admin in between discipling individuals, training a small core team and teaching a home study. Today, I’m calling people, looking at graphics, forward planning, examining and refining constitutions and bylaws, and dealing with the logistics of meeting at a school.
This is the stuff that nobody tells you about.
Nobody warns you that church planting is going to be about working. Not just working…but working hard. In church planting, you work hard or nothing hardly works. I don’t flaunt what I do in front of my congregation when I’m planting. I don’t tell them the hard stuff. But those that want to serve and plant churches of their own soon find out. I’m concerned about this generation of planters coming up. They’ve imbibed on iTunes sermons, Youtube vids, and testimonies of churches that exploded with thousands of people within a month or two of the launch. The fact is, that’s the exception to most church plants, not the rule. It definitely wasn’t the Apostle Paul’s experience, and he was the best in the biz.
Here’s the reality, you’re a team now. Many of you have come from backgrounds where everything was done for you. If you threw your national average of 2-3% of your income at the church, then everything would be magically taken care of. Not so with a church plant. When you join a core team, it’s like going from being a renter to a homeowner. You’ve got equity here, and it’s going to require your investment. It’s going to require an investment of your time, gifts, and service, because unlike the church you may have come from, it’s not down to the leader, or a small group of professionals to do everything for you. You’re gonna have to roll up your sleeves a bit.
The day that you take your watch off, roll up your sleeves, and take ownership, is the day that you start to become a leader.
I’ve met people who want a position before they’ll ever do anything, but Jesus said that the greatest among us would be the greatest servant. He was, and he modeled it. He had position, but downplayed it, choosing to be called the Son of Man, rather than the Son of God. Jesus was modeling for us. It’s time we pay attention.
Stupid Stuff I Hate
There’s been an email sitting in my inbox for over a year. It’s a reply to an email with the same name as this article in the subject heading.
The body of the email contained stuff about setting up our 501c non-profit status, setting up a bank account, and writing the necessary constitution and by-laws that you need to have in order to do all of this.
Stupid. Stuff. I. Hate.
In life, we all choose to do the stuff we like. Eat food that tastes good, watch compelling films, check out how people responded to our post on Facebook depicting He-man singing “What’s Going On” (Which, incidentally was an even better response of ‘BoHe-manian Rhapsody’).
But there are equally things that we hate doing, but must be done…paying our taxes, scrubbing the toilet, weeding the yard.
Church planting is like that. On the one hand, you have all the cool stuff you love. Preaching, adventure, open road, radical conversions, intimate groups, etc. But even more so, at every turn, you also have things that are less gratifying. In fact, more than anywhere else in ministry, church planting is laced, lined, and stuffed with stupid stuff you hate.
Firstly, you have no money. You can’t just pay somebody to do the “stupid things”.
Secondly, you have few people. What people you have, you can’t afford to burn out by giving them the sucky church chores.
Sure, there are indispensable people who make your life suck less by doing the church accounts, but at the end of the day, you will find yourself rolling up your sleeves, taking a deep breath, sucking it up, and jumping feet first into stupid stuff you hate.
This is the admin that is required to get a church plant off the ground. I was at lunch recently with somebody who somewhat critically said they often wonder what I do. I smiled inside. Much of it is stuff that nobody ever sees. It’s also stuff that nobody will ever hear about, because quite frankly, you don’t boast about this kind of stuff. Nonetheless, when it’s not there people DO notice.
This is the reality that faces any church planter. Like a young teenager who longs for the bright lights in front of the bleachers, but quits the team because he found out there was practice, doing stupid stuff you hate separates the men from the boys. You can’t lead worship unless you’re willing to print song sheets, arrange powerpoint slides, communicate with a worship team, and of course, practice.
You’ve been warned. Church planting isn’t all swashbuckling for Jesus and raising gospel ruckus. Much of it will bore the heck out of you, but hey, I suppose Paul’s stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, sleepless nights, and days of nakedness were the price tag for church planting in the 1stCentury.
What’s a little pencil pushing after all?
You may be called upon to do some of the stupid stuff. If so, rejoice. That stupid stuff makes all the cool stuff possible. If it’s me, I try and make sure that everyone is doing a mixture of both. It’s like doing chores after the steak dinner. It’s like having the washboard after doing the crunches. It’s like life. It’s how things work. Church planting is no different.
Buck up soldier, you’re in the army now, and everybody has got to peel potatoes, and everyone gets latrine duty every now and then!
Expectations Of Church Planting
One more thing when it comes to character. Endemic to all core teams is a sense of expectation of what the church is going to be. Some of you dream of the church’s name in big lights. Some of you pray that never happens, but this church becomes your little piece of relationship heaven.
I have good news and bad news.
The bad news first? This church isn’t going to be anything like your idealized version of church. The good news? It’s going to be something better, but you’ve got to give it a chance.
I’ve noticed that unless a church plant becomes exactly what people think it should be, they leave. They leave because the church that was planted doesn’t fit their expectations of what a church should be in that context. But what if the church that was planted perfectly fits the context? What if in God’s plan, it’s even better? I always like to ask people if they think they’d like one of Paul’s church plants. They weren’t flashy, big, or “exciting”. They were often life and death, secret underground affairs that required people to be extremely careful for fear of being arrested. It’s funny how we only want the biggest and best. If you’re here, it should be because you’ve realized that going to the “biggest and best” is great when you’re talking circuses, but maybe not so much for church.
I’d ask you to commit. To give God a chance to work. And as God told Zechariah, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10).
If you’re here, stay put. Commit to this start-up. Don’t leave everyone else holding the bag because you didn’t get to do something your way, or your pet hobby doesn’t get indulged by the team. You’re part of a team now, and together God has awesome plans for you…if you let him show you.
It’ll be new. It’ll be different. But it’ll be worth it.
Nothing I’ve been a part of in church planting would have been possible if I’d bailed in the early days. Fishing, farming, and guarding are all illustrations that the Bible uses about kingdom work, and they all require one exceptional virtue; patience.
So be patient. Endure. Persevere.
The fish will bite if you’re fishing.
The crops will come if you’re sowing and watering.
The morning will break with deliverance if you stay awake.
Church Planting is a grownup’s game; it’s not for little boys or girls who want to play church. You’re going to have to work, endure, and be patient according to Paul’s advice to Timothy…and if you can’t stomach doing stuff that is either hard, or not what you want to do…well…there’s a sign hanging on the door that reads: