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Justin Davis: My First Affair Was with the Church

Many church planting leaders are saying we need to start at the beginning with assessment. Looking back at the assessment process, were there blind spots, land mines the process missed?

Justin: When we moved from Nashville to Indianapolis in 2002 to plant the church, that was the first move since the first one right out of college that we were both on the same page, felt like God had laid it on both our hearts. We were living out a biblical story. We felt like we wanted to do it right, get a church going.

Trisha: Even with all the dysfunction we’d experienced in ministry up to that point, we felt it had been worth it because now we were starting fresh, with Genesis…starting with a small group of nine people, and within three years, there were 700. There was a lot of opportunity to continue with that excitement and purity at each step, but at some point it became, in [Justin’s] mind, “Look at what I’ve built…I’ve got to keep this machine going.”

Justin: The reality was we did an assessment. We did what was called a “parachute drop.” When we moved to Indianapolis, we didn’t know anyone. Over the next couple of months, we partnered with two other megachurches in the area, and they adopted us and provided us with resources and people. And part of that was we had to go through an assessment, to make sure we were qualified, that our marriage was in good shape.

Trisha: Which was hard because I was [pregnant] and so sick and so tired. I wasn’t 100 percent engaged in the process.

Justin: Most church planters have these blind spots, but they’re not really blind. They know they’re there. There’s just not an environment within the church planting movement that’s safe enough to be really honest about your life. That was me. There are safe struggles to confess—me saying, “Trisha and I are really having trouble communicating,” is a lot more acceptable than, “I’m really struggling with lust after a staff member.” Those are two different things, as far as safety goes.

Rather than having confidence in the fact that this network of people helping us with this church plant were for us, it felt like they were dangling a carrot in front of us saying, “If you jump through all the hoops and prove yourself worthy enough, here’s $160,000, and you can have it to plant your church.”

You never want to show chinks in the armor because you know you won’t get funding or you’ll get fired. The expectation—our church grew so fast, at 18 months old, we had a capital campaign to raise $1million to buy land, so then the stakes went up even higher. As a church planter, you’re constantly feeling ill equipped anyway. I remember Trisha asking me, “What are you going to do today?” And I said, “I don’t know. There’s no agenda. I’ve never done this before.”

Honestly, what’s appealing is the complete lack of accountability.

Trisha: There’s the seduction to church planting leadership. You really are selling yourself to sell the vision of God. People want to be elders [in the church] because they buy in to the vision [the church planter is] selling them. It almost creates an elusive person in their hearts and minds. Who you really are is almost too crushing for them to handle.

When things got really bad, I completely had a meltdown with one of our elders and his wife, on a Sunday morning in the hallway, and they sincerely listened to me. But their response was, “You’re overreacting,” which translated to me that they thought I was crazy. Nothing was done about it. Four weeks later, we were separated.

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