Church Planting Stress

Ed Stetzer’s article about losing the soul in the church planting process is worth reading for all who (1) are church planting, (2) struggling to get a church self-sustaining, or (3) who are involved in a church plant.

What is your wisdom here?

Alan (not his real name) started a successful church in a large Northern California community. He worked hard, built up his core group and drew over 300 people to his launch service. By the end of his first year, Alan’s church averaged over 200 in worship. By the end of his second year, his church averaged nearly 400. Alan became a hero to his local denominational leaders. Northern California is difficult soil and Alan’s new church was their most successful start in over 20 years. His ministerial star was rising.

Then Alan resigned at the end of his third year. He was not leaving to lead another church. In fact, he was completely leaving professional ministry to enter the management trainee program with Taco Bell Corporation. People were shocked.

His friends, colleagues, and even a few fans tried convincing Alan into giving ministry another chance. Their reasons were admirably motivated: God equips gifted people like him to advance the kingdom. Alan understood and appreciated their concerns. But he was not budging. The reasons he cited are all too familiar. The pressures to succeed made him miserable, the church increasingly demanded more time away from his family, and he felt spiritually barren. Furthermore, Alan did not like what he or the church had become. The church was like a spoiled child demanding their needs be met and giving nothing back. Alan drew a large crowd, but felt like he was doing it alone. He was seeing very little life change in an outwardly growing crowd on Sundays. Physically, emotionally and spiritually disillusioned, he had enough. He wanted out, so he quit.

Most, if not all, church planters wrestle with at least some of the issues Alan faced. Admittedly, most don’t quit. But many limp along nearly broken under the pressures to succeed. Some church planters so singularly focus on the task of creating a congregation that they forget to build a church and guard their own spiritual lives. When this happens, both the planter and his church suffer. Let’s look at two practices that can help planters avoid a spiritually dry and disillusioned ministry.

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  • craig cottongim

    What are the two practices from his, “Let’s look at two practices that can help planters avoid a spiritually dry and disillusioned ministry.”???

  • Dianne P

    Click on the link. It’s explained in the full article.

  • Benjamin Gatton

    I have been involved in planting a Christian School in a rural mountainous area. I think there is a lot of good advice here for any one who is involved in the beginning process of a ministry.

  • craig cottongim

    Thx. I didn’t realize that…

  • Some very significant percentage of of the goal (whether wrapped in the term “success” or “church” or “pastor” or some combination thereof) isn’t a fruit bearing tree. It’s a weed. In the words Ash Williams, “It’s a trick. Get an axe.”

    To reference a less comedic figure who should have more relevance to this discussion, I don’t think the apostle Paul had the same goals that are burying church planters. Part of it is that today we want to leverage the cult of personality instead of disavow it in word and deed. That has costs, especially to the personality being leveraged. I say again, “It’s a trick. Get an axe.”

  • DMH

    Very sad, but not surprising.

    In terms of one of the suggested practices, theological reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the system or model practiced by most Protestant churches (and apparently in this case) is broken. It does not facilitate the things I think we all want- community, spiritual maturity, a sense of ownership and participation of people involved, relational contact with those “outside”, a “easy yoke” for leadership,…

    Of course there will always be challenges. No model is perfect but I think a “house church” trajectory is better suited for what is wanted and needed, and less costly to everyone involved.

  • josenmiami

    Yup, the story sounds familiar. Something similar happened to me in the 1990s in Miami during our third church plant. Only difference is that I stubbornly pressed on for ten years before facing the “bad and the ugly,” and quit. I managed to finish a transition into a PhD program and academia … and continued “making disciples” without church planting. Jesus never told us to “go and plant churches” and if one makes that his starting point, one ends up with a demanding audience “like a spoiled child.”
    However, if one makes Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” the starting point, one ends up with a very different result. The only problem is that one cannot generate a salary to support one’s family, hence the need for the PhD and a job. I admire the church planter in this story for his courage and honesty and may he make many disciples at Taco Bell (one he and his family recover).

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t know if I agree with Stetzer’s assertion that “most don’t quit”… In my experience it seems that more quit than succeed, but that could just be my perception.

    I can’t really call what I did a “church plant”, necessarily – I was involved in re-starting a campus ministry that had pretty much withered away. It was exciting to be able to start something from scratch. The one thing I was fortunate in, though, was that it was never anything I had to depend on for my financial livelihood. Looking back now the one thing I wish I could have realized was that I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. But that’s part of Evangelicalism’s ethos.

    I do think that most church plants are personality driven. If the primary pastors decides to quit or was incapacitated for some reason, most of them would simply cease to exist.

  • Pierre Eade

    The problem in this scenario is that he built a crowd instead of a community. It’s the American franchise model of church planting. And if you’re going to be a franchise, why not just join in with Taco Bell and enjoy a burrito while you do it?

    What would happen if we replaced the word “church” with “community”? Imagine sending out a bunch of radical “community planters” instead of “church planters”?

    Our culture is starving for meaningful relationships, not more hype. We need to return to a simpler, New Testament model of church that focuses on true koinonia, not just filling in the seats and building a bigger sanctuary. We might grow slower, but I believe we’d grow stronger.

  • Christ said, “I will build my church,” and He left instructions for us to make followers… so much of ‘church planting’ is focused around US building the church so it stands to reason that when we take HIS responsibility (of building the church) on our shoulders, pressures meant for HIM (being provider and answering ‘prayers’) are moved to our shoulders as well.

    much of the pressures that pastors face are directly related to them creating a culture or stepping into a culture where they’re seen as the benefactor, feudal lord, the provider. Jesus explicitly told the disciples to not operate this way.

    i’m a ‘church planter’ also, and we take great care to focus on discipleship (both being discipled and discipling) and making sure that even though i’m leading i’m not ruling.

  • Rev. Mark Smith

    One, is planting a church necessarily “advancing the kingdom”? I have my doubts. Two, Alan’s feelings and decision to leave pastoral ministry are not exclusive to church planting. Those of us serving existing local churches have the same feelings, and some of us (not this one) leave.