Revolution Church turned 5 years old recently and it got me thinking about the last 5 years, all that God has done, his faithfulness and all that I have learned over that time. I get asked a lot by church planters what I would do differently or what I’ve learned in the process.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned in the last 5 years:
1. Your energy (spiritual, emotional, physical, relational) is the most important thing you can give your church and only you can control it. This may seem obvious and all of these will, but this one is crucial. Church planters tend to be driven, entrepreneurial, take the hill kind of leaders. They are also usually young which means they think they have endless amounts of energy. They eat like college freshmen and often sleep like them. The reality is, that is not sustainable. While planting is a busy season, filled with meetings, getting stuff done, making phone calls, rallying a core group, raising funds, you have to hit the pause button. No one can make you sleep. No one can make you spend time with Jesus. No one can make you exercise or eat well. No one can make sure you have friends and not just church planting friends, but real friends. If you miss this, the extent of the damage can be huge. Most guys who fail in ministry and sin will tell you that it goes back to not managing one of these areas. In 2011, I did not manage my energy well and I hit a wall. It slowed our church down, demoralized our leaders, hurt my family and it took a year to recover as a church. You as the leader set the tone. The first question I ask my leaders when I coach them is to tell me how they are doing in these 4 areas.
2. Your family has to come first, they need to know it and so does your church. Every pastor says their wife and kids are more important than their job. We say things like, “My church can get another pastor, but my kids have one dad, my wife has one husband.” This is so prevalent that 2 recent books on pastoring: The Church Planting Wife and The Pastor’s Family actually excuse the husband’s sin in this area and say things like, “Being a pastors wife means I share my husband at night and he misses dinner or time with me.” While this happens, but when this is the pattern, it is sin. One of the things I heard Eugene Peterson say was he started to call everything he did an appointment. If someone asked him to meet and he already had a date planned with his wife, an activity with his kids, he said he had an appointment. No one questions your appointments. Talk about this from up front. In your sermons, lift up your wife and kids, don’t make them sermon illustrations of what not to do. Talk about how you date and pursue your wife, talk about spending time with your kids. You are the model to men of what it means to be a man, a father and a husband.
3. Who you surround yourself with will determine your effectiveness. This is simple leadership, but the leaders you choose will determine the health and future of your church. This means you must know who you are, your gift mix, what you can and can’t do, what you do that brings the most glory to God. Then, you must look for leaders who complement this. If you are a strong visionary and can see the future, you must find someone who can think in steps and how to get somewhere who can see the map, not just the destination. If you love to shepherd people and want to make sure no one falls through the cracks, you’ll need a leader to remind you that sometimes people need hard gospel truth and not coddling. I read when I started Revolution that your first hire is the most important. This is so true. If you miss on your first hire, you may not make it because your church is so fragile. Don’t rush this. If someone isn’t working out, don’t wait around. Move quickly, help them find a new role, new responsibility. If they don’t like up with your vision and DNA, have the tough conversation. Everyone you start with will not finish with you and it is naive to think otherwise.
4. Think twice your size. Too many planters simply want to get started, which is a good goal. As the church gets off the ground, they can quickly move into maintenance mode. They stop thinking ahead and the grind of preaching every week starts to set in. When before you had dream sessions, now you are having counseling sessions. Before you used to talk about the future, now you are dealing with what just happened. In this time, it is easy to stop dreaming, stop vision casting and just do. This is dangerous. At all times, as the leader, you must think twice your size. You must ask, “if we do this, will it keep us from doubling?” Or, “When we are twice our size, will we do that?”
5. Learn from your mistakes cause you’ll make them. You’ll make mistakes. In fact, you’ll make them before you have your first core group member. That’s okay. Learn from them. When we started, we did small groups a certain way. Yet, they didn’t give us what we hoped to get, we weren’t seeing disciples made and community happen. So, 2 years into our plant, we scrapped what we were doing and started over. That was hard to admit because we had 85% of our adults in a small group. But we learned. Today, I know how to shut a ministry down. I can raise $45,000 in a month to make a big move. I know how to kill a worship service. How to start a new worship service. How to hire a leader. How to fire one. How to have tough and easy conversations. You can blow through those experiences, but I would encourage you to go through them slowly, write down what you learned and process it with someone. Lastly in this area, get a coach. Someone who is steps ahead of you in the journey. Someone you respect who can speak into your leadership and give advice and be a sounding board. It is helpful if this person is not at your church so you can be completely honest with them and not hold back.
6. Bonus: Commit to outlast everyone, put down roots and commit to one church and city. I know I said 5, but this one is important. When you start a church it is exciting. Then the hard work starts. People stop coming, someone gets angry, shepherding sets in and it is hard work. That is why, before you start a church, commit to that church, to that city, put down roots. When we started Revolution, our prayer was and is still, that we would die in Tucson. We wanted to give our lives to one church, to one city, to one movement and out of that church, we prayed that 1 million people would follow Jesus because of it. This commitment has helped when times are the darkest, because sometimes, your calling is all you have. You will come back to it and question it and wonder if you heard God correctly. If you commit to stay, it makes difficult situations a little easier. They still hurt and are painful, but when we hit rough patches, Katie and I would look at each other and say, “We decided to outlast them, so let’s push through.”