How’s your soul? Navigating Church Planting Pressures

At the beginning of the summer I crashed like I haven’t since I was a 20 year old youth worker who forgot what days off were. I found myself sitting in A&E feeling this sense of shame at my inability to consistently be superhuman all the time. How did I get like this? I had been doing too much, too consistently, for too long and I was struggling. Even as the doctor explained this, denial rose up in me – I don’t do too much, I don’t do enough. I should be working harder!

Sometimes it isn’t the volume of work that takes a toll on you. Give a creative too many administrative tasks or force a deep thinker to make too many fast decisions and they will begin to feel misshaped. Church Planters have to be able to flex and do things that aren’t our strengths but when you do it for too long you start to lose who you really are. That is scary and disconcerting. It is dangerous.

Church Planting also brings an unusual and unique kind of pressure that people who haven’t done it don’t seem to understand. Every decision, big or small tangibly affects you. It is like looking after a baby that requires constant attention – except that the baby is also the source of your income and provision. It is fragile, still forming and confusing. All your insecurities start to bubble to the surface. You love it but it is draining. And because you love this baby, despite having amazing people around you, there is a lie that you start to believe that you are doing everything by myself. You are alone in this. You have to do a good job at everything all the time or the boat will sink. And that kind of thinking brings pressure that you need to recognise and manage.

The heart of the problem is that we care too much. We care about people. We care about church, hope, love, and faith. And because we care and we want church to be impacting and fruitful, we want it to be awesome. So, on any given day we are thinking about the musicality of our worship, discipleship, pastoral care, coffee, the impact of our sermons, what people think about us, whether the visitor on row two will come back, what church planting is doing to my kids, date nights, education, reading good books, administrating the church, small groups, design and decor, linking in with other churches, prayer, mission, learning accountancy, evangelism, prophetic ministry, challenges of culture, creche, youth, investing in leaders, legal structures, growth of the church, starting new locations, Bob’s marriage issues, how to create a lighting rig, risk assessments, the spiritual atmosphere of my town, getting to the gym, charity commission, trustee meetings, ordering new pull ups, did I offend my best leader… the list goes on. It is relentless. It is impossible.

Its important to recognise that the list is not the problem. You are, the moment that you start misunderstanding your role. You hold onto too many things or any one thing too tightly and it pulls you off-centre. You overcompensate and drive yourself to become the solution to everything or you lose patience with people who want to help. You end up making the methods more important than the mission and end up in a mess.

You can’t do it. It is so important to remember that. You. Can’t. Do. It. It is too much and you are a human. The church is not your baby, it’s Jesus’! This summer I have been coming back to the heart of church planting (and yes Matt Redman it’s all about Jesus) and trying to fix my focus. This is what I’ve re-learnt:

1. Focus your heart. You can’t care about everything.

The first step to becoming a more healthy leader is to focus your heart. You can not care about all of these things all the time. Strip back everything and ask yourself – what really matters the most here today? What is the heartbeat of this church? Who do I want to see when I look in the mirror? What do you need to stop caring so much about? Find that one thing that Jesus is leading you to push into and follow him.

2. Focus your time. You can’t do it all.

We all know this academically. However, when push comes to shove we still find ourselves working 7 day work weeks and putting off the kids so that we can finish our sermon in time. In what way does this kind of example honour God? What does this say about the nature of our faith? We often think about as excellence as being synonymous with worship but letting go says far more about who you believe is building the church. Allow people to help. Allow God to work. Release, release, release.

In the book of Acts the church leaders had capacity issues so they found other people to help them. They focused their time on three things  – the ministry of the Word, prayer and developing leaders. I wonder what our churches would look like if we were better at that.

3. Focus your expectations. Don’t compare.

My father-in-law often says that most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in five. It is ok to be where you are today. If you don’t have youth ministry, that’s alright. We still don’t have a prayer ministry team – that’s ok. It takes years… that is normal. It doesn’t matter what the church down the road with the big budget has. Embrace the season you are in and love this moment. It will pass and you will miss it.

4. Focus less on church planting. Look after yourself.

When was the last time you had a conversation that wasn’t about church planting? Its a bit weird how obsessed we become, isn’t it! Churches need healthy leaders far more than they need productive ones. Look after yourself. Get your exercise in. Read some books. Spend time with people. Have fun. Pursue some interests – they make you interesting. Don’t become a machine – you are a human walking hand in hand with Jesus. Forget your legacy – take some of the load off and go surfing. Its ok and everything will all still be standing when you get back (it might even be better). You are a human and that is important.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you Ben; another really thought-provoking and honest blog.

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