August 27, 2007

5 Things I Learned About Church Planting While Backpacking

Last week was my first time away in over a year and a half. It was nice to not have to think about work (most of the time). I hesitate to call it a vacation because that implies going somewhere to relax. I didn't.

During the first part of the week I schedule a backpacking trek of 3 days, 2 nights, and about 25 miles. I knew it was going to be tough, so I started a hiking, walking, and running workout schedule to prepare. I warned my friend about the conditions and recommended he take similar steps. Needless to say, halfway through the very first day, he was ready to quite. We ended up hiking out on a flat, easy service road the next day.

Here are some things I learned:

1. Always know what you are getting yourself into. I studied and researched the area where we were backpacking. I studied the maps. I read the trail guides. I knew basically what I was faced with. In order to give myself the best odds of succeeding, I had to know the terrain, weather conditions, and what was expected. As we were leaving the area on the flat, smooth service road and horse trail, my friend said, "This is more like I thought it would be like." He hadn't done the research.

The same holds true for any major endeavor in life; especially church planting. You have to have a realistic understanding of the process to give yourself the best possible odds of succeeding. Read the books, talk to others who have done it before you, and study the culture you are entering.

2. No matter how much you prepare, the real thing is always different. I studied the topographical maps, and I knew that we would be faced with almost 700 feet of elevation gain in a very short period of time. But knowing this via a map is very different from knowing it as you trudge up the very steep side of the hill.

No matter how much you prepare, the reality of the thing is never like you imagined. When you plant a church, be prepared for the unexpected. There are many church planters who expect to reach thousands, and then struggle to get a foothold in the community. There are others who hope to simply reach the lost and end up blowing out the doors. Then, there is everyone in between.

3. Choose your companions well. I invited a friend along, and, mistakenly, expected him to prepare. I even encouraged it. The problem was that he didn't, and I really didn't believe he would. I hoped he would, but I think I knew deep down he wouldn't.

When you are planting a church, the people who make up your core team of leaders will make or break the church plant. I believe that the pastor/leader has a very strong role to play, but he can't lead without solid leaders around him. The first church I pastored was very supportive of me as a person. They liked me and my family. They liked the idea of having a church in the community, but they were not ready for a church plant or the style of church I wanted to lead. Choosing who goes with you is very important.

4. Have a plan. I knew where we were going to camp. I knew what equipment was needed. I knew how far and fast we needed to go. I had a plan, and, in the end, it was important. I also knew what tasks needed to be accomplished once we reached camp.

When planting a church, have a plan. This part of the preparation process, and the reality is that the plan will and should change. But without an initial plan everything is just hit or miss.

5. Enjoy the time you have. My trip was cut short by a two days. Hiking out was not part of the trip plan, and I don't consider it part of the trip. I was mad at having to leave early. But I also realized, pretty quickly, that my anger was causing me to miss the beautiful scenery and peacefulness of the surroundings.

When I first started planting, my expectations were obliterated. I was unhappy, angry, you name it. It wasn't until it was almost too late that I realized I needed to just simply enjoy the moment. We could all use that advice...enjoy right now.

Anything you have learned from trekking in the outdoors?

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