Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Confessions of a Church Planter (Part 1)

Mistakes I Made

Our first two years at PCC were both fun and challenging at the same time. Attendance was about 50 people. Like most pastors of small churches, I was doing a lot of deacon work. I would unlock the building, prepare the church bulletin and sermon guide, run them to the copy shop for duplication, set up our sound system on Sunday, set up chairs, welcome visitors, conduct the church service, clean up the room after everyone left, and haul the equipment back to my garage until next Sunday.

Thankfully a few people started helping out. But I quickly discovered that in a small church, ministry is usually something that the pastor does for his congregation, and people will chip in to help only when they feel like it. I realized that if this mindset remained in our church and was allowed to take hold, it would bury me in unending work for lazy and ungrateful church people.

In the first two years we were attracting an assorted bag of mixed-nuts to our church. Some came to simply watch the show each week; they gave nothing and served nowhere. Then there were the consumer-types who likewise gave nothing and served nowhere, but always wanted more and demanded more of my time, attention, and church resources. Fortunately, a handful of people were there to serve, give, and help out any way they could. They came to our church wanting to get involved and were enormously encouraging to me.

I continually repeated the mission of our church each Sunday – to obey the Greatest Commandment and obey the Great Commission – so that people who stayed with us understood that they were not welcome to bring any other agenda to PCC. (God, would you please rapture the charismatic lady who shows up each Sunday with a tambourine? She wants to turn us into a dancing church). The problem with many of the people we attracted in those first two years was that they had already been to every other church in town – sucking the life out of the pastor and the church’s resources – and now wanted to do the same with us. Such people were worthless for a mission-oriented church such as ours. Week after week, they would walk in to our church to see what they could get from us, never thinking that perhaps they should serve Christ by helping to build a ministry.

Looking back I realize that I made some strategic errors that nearly killed the progress of our church. First, I had an informal leadership structure, as is common in small churches, which permitted heretics, nut jobs, wackos, troublemakers, and pushy types to wield a lot of power. Worse still, it was hard to know how to remove such people without killing our little church. We were small – made up of one social network – and to remove one person from a leadership position was to risk losing every person.

Another mistake I made was not having enough formal small groups in our fledgling church family. The entire church was based on relationships that were connected to me, and we didn’t have enough groups to help people connect with each other. This kept me from focusing my energy on finding new people for our church, and I got stuck in friendship circles with a handful of people who were already members. They often became jealous when I tried to establish relationships with others, not understanding that is the nature of the work in the ministry.

A third mistake I made was underestimating the importance of money in a church plant and for carrying out the Great Commission. Somehow I got the idea that money was a dirty topic to talk about and felt guilty every time I mentioned it in church. To this day, I am not sure where I got this boneheaded idea from, but I was willing to have both my wife and I work full-time jobs to pay our personal bills and the bills for our little church, to the point that we began having stress-related health issues. Each week our church was receiving about $150 in the offering – with a lot of $1 bills – which was not enough to cover expenses.

Obviously, I knew this trend could not continue or I was going to end up in a padded room being monitored by men white jackets. So I began to formulate a plan to organize our church with a better leadership structure that included real elders, real servants, and real Christians who would get on board with our mission of helping us reach and disciple the lost – and hopefully save my sanity.

That’s when some of the first tension cracks began to appear in our little church family....

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