In the final months of 1999, I on took the responsibility of planting a new church. During the spring of 2000, I would be finishing my Master's degree, leaving a church position as a youth pastor, becoming a father, purchasing a new home, moving into that new home, and beginning one of the hardest ministry assignments imaginable. Over the next two years we would have four major car breakdowns, a dozen or more minor breakdowns, a major surgery to repair a broken leg and bone cyst for my wife, near financial failure, and whatever else seems to go wrong when everything is going wrong.
There is great pain involved with every ministry position (emotional, financial, psychological). It is just part of being in ministry and learning to minister out of and in spite of the pain; even in the midst of success. The pain of planting my first church would be tragic if I learned nothing from it. I sat through more than 8 years of college and seminary learning "how to do ministry." (That is another story altogether.) With all those years of ministry training, the toughest classroom I ever entered was the church plant.
Here are some things I have learned about ministry, myself, and God in the midst of this church plant:
1. It is about me. I don't say this in some arrogant, self-centered way. I don't think the world revolves around me. But often the purpose of the trials, heartaches, and dissapointments is to develop us as a leader. God is in the transformation business, and that means He wants to transform me. Before I can lead anyone, I must be in a place where God trusts me and can use me.
2. It is about relationships. We can program church activities until we are blue in the face, and sometimes we literally are blue in the face, and still never be the Kingdom of God. It is about relationships. Loving God and loving others. We are to live in relationship with those who attend the church, those who lurk on the edges of church, and those who have no intention of coming to church.
3. It is about serving. We demonstrate God's love most effectively when we serve others. Whether through simple acts of kindness or volunteering in a homeless or some other act of selfless service to others, we are called to serve. We are not called to build a large church. We are called to reach into people's lives with the transforming message of God's love and serve them--that, I believe, will result in a growing church, but the priority cannot be on the growth.
4. It is simple. Sometimes we make church so complicated. We add things to the schedule and the agenda that are meaningless and lead us nowhere. Church should be simple. Worship, serve, fellowship (more than just hanging out), and reaching out.
5. I am called. I learned that I cannot escape the call to ministry. The struggles and challenges of the past six years have been almost unbearable at times, but I have learned there is nothing I would rather do than plant churches and be part of the ministry. On this side, I have come to like what I do. I am gifted in many different areas, but ministry is where my passion is. I could never be satisfied with anything else.
These are just a few things, and there alot more. I may get around to talking about a few more of them some other time.