I’ve been thinking a lot lately about do overs. Any baseball fan knows that you often wish you could get another pitch. In golf you call it a mulligan and take a dropped ball. In a great game of Horse, you may even take a second shot. If you’re specifically a Cleveland sports fan you wish you could have a lot of do overs. The Fumble, The Drive, Red Right 88, Rain Delays, The Decision–but I will stop grieving now that LeBron has quenched the thirst for Cleveland being a Championship City.
Instead I would like to talk about church-planting do overs. Here are 5 things that I would love a mulligan on.
I. Giving myself a break
My family and I moved into the Hampton Roads area of Virginia with little understanding of the culture and no real contacts to build from. I remember moving in, getting a job and then going to work on planting, all the while feeling like there was this ticking clock, and I felt it each passing day, week, month. But, now, after having been here for just under 9 years, working in church planting and development, I wish I had breathed a little bit more in those early days.
The practice of Sabbath rest was non-existent for me my family and the church we were planting. We never came up for air, because you know the clock was ticking. A few years into our plant I was struggling with depression, my kids were missing their dad as they were getting older, and my wife was being left behind in what had turned into my church planting goals and efforts.
It was at this point just a few years in that I believe I finally realized how important Sabbath rest was not only for my family, but also creating these rhythms for the community that we were creating.
II. Building stronger theological roots
When I began our journey towards planting I remember thinking I just need to get as much practical hands on training as possible and thought little of the theological constructs in planting. I had gone through seminary and believed I was well equipped in that area. After all I had spent years looking at theology and falsely believed I knew the depths of scripture. Little did I know how ignorant I would later find this train of thought.
It has been a deeper theological understanding of the Missio Dei and the Imago Dei that have shaped our church’s community. I needed to come to a deeper understanding that God is already in my city and doing a deeper work than I could imagine. I needed to understand that the local church needs to reflect the work God wanted to do in the city rather than another institution with all the same copied programs.
It was therefore my responsibility to not focus on building a new community, but rather helping a people to reimagine God’s Mission in our city and the Image of God we are in our place. I learned to just focus on teaching people to see what God is doing, to learn to distinguish His voice and through this to become a part of His great mission to our city as we grow into a more full representation of the Image of God in our space.
III. Be more imaginative
I didn’t realize how much of my view of the church came more out of my personal experiences within the church rather than the interpretation of the scriptures. I didn’t realize how narrow my view of the church was. Most of my formative years in the church were at a growing mega-church in Ohio. It is a great church, doing great things, however this is not what I was creating nor did I feel God compelling me to create.
My imagination for what the church was and is had to expand past my experiences and land more within my own theological convictions and the practice of those convictions. I never viewed the church through a lens of multiplication, but rather addition. I never viewed the church through the lens of incarnational practices, but really unintentionally found myself living above a people.
I realized that because my imagination of God’s church had shrunk I was only trying to implement programs that I had often seen in the past. Within the implementation of these programs I was by fault more focused on the end goal rather than the process and the transformation taking shape.
I can only think if I never personally landed in a place of reimagining the Church how much our people may have missed out on. Because of this we have seen expressions of the Church within the park using kickball of all things. We have seen Navy Sailors used by God mightily on a Deployment as one even was a part of planting a Church on his Boat.
I am thankful that God eventually brought me to a place of reimagining.
IV. I would get out of the way
When we were at the beginning I felt like so much of the plant was going to be built on my fortitude and leadership brilliance. Haha, now that’s funny even to admit out loud. Therefore if things didn’t work I would only be able to say I was not perseverant enough and therefore not a sharp enough leader. I found with this faulty thinking from the beginning I began to take too much credit as well as too much critic. I quickly found myself operating from a place of trying to please people instead of really cultivating what God was up to in our city and the church community.
Through these early stages I constantly found myself measuring the wrong things and living in a fruitless cycle of let down and disappointment; missing the whole time what things God was doing. I found myself playing the Hollywood scene of other church Plants I knew only from the outside, not personally knowing nor understanding their own failures and frustrations. I was yearning for something more than what I was a part of creating by being the little birdie peering into other’s ministry with infatuation.
After a few years of continual frustration I doubted myself as a leader, as I was depressed and broken, probably almost on the verge of burnout. It was in this season that I had to relearn that the church I was planting was not my church at all. I was not lord of these people, of this city, nor of this new baby church. I was after all just called to be a faithful shepherd and leader, living my faith and love of Jesus in an outward expression inviting others to come along.
It was in these moments of letting go and giving this ministry back to the Lord that I felt a freedom that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was learning how to get out of my own way.
V. Re-think the table
One of my favorite things these days is to grab a cup of coffee and forge new relationships as well as deepen existing relationships. In the beginning as much as I probably don’t like to admit I wouldn’t have seen this time at the table laughing, breathing, and sharing stories together as fruitful for a new church, nor as an integral part of my work. I am a self motivated, hard driven, get it done, kind of personality that has to have something checked off my list before I lay my head down at night.
Early on I only saw the importance of the table to get something done that moved the church plant ahead tomorrow and probably missed the impact that the table can have in shaping us as people. The church after all is about the reshaping of people.
I even laugh now because in those early days I didn’t even like coffee. But now I have learned the importance of not only enjoying a fresh cup, but really that Jesus’ greatest ministry took place around tables, not in the crowds.
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