I have been blessed to know many fellow church planters. All-in-all, they are a good bunch of blokes who work hard and love Jesus. Most of them feel a very deep call to reach out to people the established churches are not reaching for whatever reason. Many, but not all, are young and newly married.
They soon discover that church planting is very, very difficult. New churches tend to attract broken people who are candid about their burdens and they are not normally run-of-the-mill anxiety or tension at home but addictions and emotional scars from physical or sexual abuse. They need love with firm boundaries and the batting average for success can be fairly low.
It’s a tough gig.
Many church planters are bi-vocational. They may see their work more as a missional endeavor than a way to pay the bills. It is not unusual anymore to meet a church planter who is a barista or an adjunct professors at the local community college or even a bartender.
Yet, there will often come a time when the demands of reaching and ministering to broken people will push a planter into an unsustainable pace. He or she must choose whether to try to find (and often train) others or give up the paying job to spend more time ministering to those God has placed before them in the hopes that tithes will increase.
Finding and training others is also very difficult. Not many people are willing to work part or full-time to help with the vision God gave you! So, the planter often finds him or herself praying about quitting their paying job for a ministry that may barely be making ends meet without anyone on salary.
It is not unusual for planters to surround themselves with a support group that will quote Bible verses (sometimes out of context) to step out on faith. I’ve heard members of a church plant’s core group tell the pastor, “God promises to meet our needs! He said that if he feeds the birds than we shouldn’t doubt that he will feed us!” Yet, a planter may still wrestle with doubt.
After all, a well-known missionary by the name Alan Gardner starved to death while shipwrecked off a South American island. His last journal entry was, “I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God!” It’s a great preacher story but few planters truly want to volunteer to follow in a martyr’s footsteps.
Should a planter “step out on faith” or make sure that his bills are paid before committing to a young church full-time? When is it faith and when is it jumping off of the top of the Temple hoping the angels will catch you? It may be all in the name of our Lord but, as my friend Jeff Ventrella is fond of saying, “Stupid for Jesus is still stupid.”
I recently attended a gathering of church planters and many felt under spiritual attack. Some had been beset with health issues out of the blue. Personally, I have wrestled with a number of serious ailments and my 7-year old son recently underwent surgery. Fortunately, my wife and I are lucky enough to have good insurance. I can’t imagine what the situation would have been like had we not.
What to do?
We all have heard stories of Christians who faced dire situations only to receive what they needed just in the nick of time but, if you listen to Dave Ramsey, you will also hear plenty of tales of believers who have been devastated financially. Where is the line that separates faith from stupidity?
James wrote that God freely grants wisdom to those who ask for it but the text doesn’t tell us when or how such wisdom arrives. I wish God would grant such wisdom to me and other church planters. Perhaps we should all place such requests on our prayer list daily. I can name many a disciple who would appreciate the help.