By David Jackson, BCM/D Missionary for Church Multiplication
This past week we here in the Mid-Atlantic region have witnessed a dramatic change in the weather. From an inordinately hot summer that loitered late into September to cold, wet weather that has sent a chill down our spines, the seasons shifted quickly and, once again, without apology. Such is life, right?
The reality is that this is truly typical of life. Seasons come and seasons go in the course of a lifetime, seasons that reflect changes in our perception and experience. These seasons impact what we do and how we do it, even in ministry.
In the same way that the changing leaves and the dip in the temperature reflect the transition from summer to fall, so too are there recognizable seasons in the life of every church planter. These seasons are observable and when recognized, give clues to all involved, if those involved are perceptive.
Dream. Every church plant is born out of vision, a vision so clear and compelling that it prompts the planter to action. This dream is embellished in the planter’s mind until it becomes “fantasy-like,” truly a preferred future, but without any difficulties or hardships. It is a perfect world, a scenario that romances the planter and compels him to turn the dream into reality. In this season, the planter needs to be encouraged to dream based on God’s vision and his context, not on his ego or the latest, greatest church planting story or model.
Realism. Little does the planter know that, while the dream draws him forward to flesh out the vision, the reality he encounters will sober him in the process. Reality is never as perfect as the dream. Getting people on board is a struggle. Leaders fail to have the same agenda. Resources are hard to find. Tasks multiply without enough able bodies to do them all. Planters in this season don’t need to hear “I told you so.” Rather, they need to find an encouraging coach and support networks to help them land safely on the shore of reality.
Frustration. The planter in this season will hit a wall of discouragement; EVERY planter eventually does. Romance is replaced by routine. The planter feels everything depends upon him. Things haven’t turned out as planned. Planters are tempted to quit and walk away at this stage, and may become depressed because they feel trapped. Or they may become resentful and mad at God, thinking He has not kept His promises to them. This is the make-or-break stage in every planter’s experience! Here they must do their own wrestling with God. Planters in this season need the presence of colleagues and mentors who will listen, love and challenge them to break through the hurt and keep on the journey. Those who don’t may “flame out,” become angry and bitter; they may even leave the ministry completely.
Perseverance. If the planter gets here, the new church will likely “succeed” in being established. The frustration stage will have been used of God to shape him more specifically for the task at hand. It will also have reminded him that he totally depends on God in this work; after all, it’s His church! The planter’s resolve, rediscovered in his call to church planting, will enable him to stick with the routine and deal with the difficulties. Firm determination now makes the planter more teachable, more adaptable. At this season, commitment should be seen and celebrated.
Progress. Whether fast or incremental, some form of noticeable growth and development will soon become evident to all involved. Planters in this season will focus on building momentum. They will see signs that others in the group are now “getting it.” Numbers will increase and people will embrace ministry as participants. Leaders will surface and word-of-mouth will increase opportunities. The group is becoming a family. In this season, the planter needs wisdom and counsel from many as he “tweaks” the new church’s system and enhances their relational bonding.
Fulfillment. The plant becomes a church. The planter sees ownership of the new congregation by the people, who now act as “one,” who talk of “our” or “my” church and who are eager to tell and invite others they know to be a part of the group. The planter has a cadre of empowered leaders who use their gifts to enlarge the ministry of the new church. Lost people are reached; members grow as disciples. The community is blessed by the new church’s presence. The planter feels like a proud parent and wants others to rejoice with him in the new birth (he may even show them pictures!).
I share all this with you to make two points, one for planters and one for those of us working with them. For planters, how you finish is more important than how you start. All planters have grandiose dreams of changing the world! Too many quit before they can “see” that vision turn into reality. And rarely will a planter skip a season in this journey. So, learn the path and know where you are on the road. Don’t be caught unaware! Let God shape you through the seasons of the process. Determine to persevere to the end.
For the rest of us, seek to understand the church planter’s journey and if you know one or more of them in your area, find ways to encourage or assist them as they move from season to season. Starting a new church from virtually nothing is very difficult, indeed! So, come alongside and partner with them to extend the Kingdom of God. I guarantee that both of you will be glad you did.
David Jackson is the Church Multiplication Team Strategist for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. He can be reached by phone or text at (410) 977-9867 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.