Our first church planting venture was a near disaster.
There was no sending church. The church we came from took an offering to help us, but that was all they could afford. They sent no people, although one couple did drive a 90-mile round-trip twice on Sundays just to put money in the offering.
The biggest issue was mistrust among the leaders. There were four “pastors,” with no clear leader. We launched with just 12 people including my wife, myself and our six-month-old son. About 20 people soon gathered around me as pastor. Then we attracted three other groups looking for a non-traditional and “hippy friendly” church. They were a near disaster.
Who is the Real Pastor?
Though I held the title, each group came with their own leader who had functioned as a microchurch pastor prior to hooking up with us. We didn’t know each other. More importantly, we didn’t trust each other. I had the trust of pretty much everyone but those three “pastors.” Until we crossed that river, I’d never truly lead the congregation. The climate of mistrust drove me to despair.
These guys were faithful shepherds, each guarding their flocks against heresy and whatever else might contaminate their sheep. But their actions completely thwarted any unity we might hope for. I would rather these groups hadn’t joined—until I got a revelation from the Spirit.
When Whining Pays Dividends
One day, in prayer, as I whined about my misery, the Lord spoke to me. “Why not disciple those three leaders?” Each group tallied 20-25 people. By pastoring my handful plus the other three leaders we could begin to operate as a unit.
It didn’t work as well as you’re thinking as you read this. Those guys didn’t trust each other any more than they trusted me. I had to meet with each one separately, once a week. At first, I hated the idea. I didn’t even like two of them and I don’t think they liked me any better. But it turned out well. Two of the three became close friends. I was a vocational pastor, living out of my life savings, which meant I had too much time on my hands. Hanging with these guys blotted out some of the guilt triggered by empty time.
So Whose Your Friend?
The best was yet to come. About a year into the process one of the guys told me that God told him that we were to become close friends, like David and Jonathan (since he was pretty aggro I wondered, “who is David and who is Jon in his scenario?). But, we hooked up early every Monday morning for a couple of hours to strategize and pray. We both had backgrounds in the Navigators so walking in the shadow of the mountain where Dawson Trotman and a friend prayed that ministry into being weighed on us.
The upshot of this little saga is that we soon multiplied our first church. A couple of thousand church plants later I can report that every time I’ve seriously hooked up with another person in a two-by-two relationship it has produced a (somewhat messy) startup movement of church multiplication. You can read more about this in Chapter Six of my book Let Go of the Ring: The Hope Chapel Story. The link takes you to Amazon, but you can download a free pdf by clicking the FREE STUFF button on this website.
What about you? Did you struggle in some way to launch a church? Was funding adequate or did you operate out of your back pocket? How about Christ-followers who come from other churches—did they bring problems? Sound off in the comments box below: