In honor of our 5 Year Anniversary as a church, I thought I would take a moment to reflect and think back to what God has taught me in the last five years. After being in student ministry for nearly 14 years, my family and I stepped out in faith to plant Generation Church on March 4th, 2012. It was my first time to ever lead as the senior pastor. I was 33 years old and believed God for great things. I envisioned what God would do through a group of people who were passionate about reaching our community and the un-churched. And boy, did God show up! It has been an incredible journey over the last five years.
Every journey has its ups and downs. Every journey has learning curves and life lessons. I thought I would share at least five things (believe me, God has taught me much more) that I have learned in the last five years. I pray that it encourages you in your own spiritual journey…
Here are the 5 things I have learned in the last 5 years:
Church Planting is the Most Difficult and Yet Most Rewarding Thing I’ve Ever Done
I can remember reading a few books on church planting and getting so excited thinking of how easy it would be to get people on board and to raise money. I had made a list of fund raising ideas and ministry partners. I had also made a list of about 40 names that I would approach and ask to help us go and start the church.
Not one single person on that list came to help us start the church.
In fact, the first family we asked to come on board turned us down. (They are now campus pastors for one of our partner churches and doing very well, so they definitely followed the Lord in their leading) It was an entire year of team building, raising money, and raising leaders to get us ready to launch Sunday worship experiences in March of 2012. But it was worth it. Especially after seeing 89 people be baptized at our very first Easter worship experiences.
Leading and ministering to people is extremely messy. It’s difficult, even painful at times. It’s been said that pastoring a church would be easy if it wasn’t for the people. But without people, there is no ministry and there is no church. Though it’s difficult and hard work, it is also rewarding. Every time a married couple takes the plunge to be baptized, God reminds me that He is at work. Every time someone comes to faith in Christ, joins a small group for the first time, or begins serving, it’s a reminder of the amazing power of the Holy Spirit. We’ve been through a lot over the last 5 years including having our equipment stolen, switching locations, losing staff, and long weekends of set up and tear down. But it’s all worth it every time someone takes a next step. Every time a first time guest leaves in tears and the hope of the Gospel.
It’s Not a People Problem; It’s a System Problem
We often blame people for not following through or taking next steps, but it’s never a people problem. It’s always about the system created for the people. Shepherding people requires great systems to be in place. I have always been terrible at systems; and it showed in the first several years of our church. Of course, no one could have been prepared to grow to nearly 500 people in our first year in existence. We quickly outgrew our systems and it’s still something we are recovering from today.
When we launched the church, our systems were built and structured to lead a church of about 150 people. We believed that at the end of year one, we would be blessed to be running 150-200 people. So, you can imagine how crazy it was to try and lead a church of 500 without the right systems.
The good news is that we are moving forward and building much better systems. As long as we are willing to change each year or with each growth stage, then people will be efficiently cared for in our church. I’m learning to put the right people around me who can help build better systems to care for the people that God has entrusted us with in the church.
Grow People and Allow Jesus to Grow the Church
It is not my responsibility to grow the church. It is, however, my responsibility to grow people. Early in the church’s development, the pressure to focus on church growth was overwhelming. Becoming a fast growing church has its blessings but also major struggles. Everyone saw the people coming and assumed that was the end goal. But at every level of growth, there is a new level of frustration and opposition. If people aren’t spiritually healthy, they never break through plateaus in their life.
In the last year or so, I have focused solely on investing in the people around me, and the leaders of the church. In doing so, they have become healthier to lead others and help them grow in their walk with Christ. I have also focused on creating culture that fits our vision and mission. With laser focus, people are able to move forward in their journey and next steps become clear. Instead of telling people that they should take next steps, people desire to grow because of the culture and atmosphere of the believers in the church.
If we do our part in investing in people, God will do His part and add to the church. Healthy things grow…and so do healthy people.
Guard My Heart and My Family’s Heart Above All Else
One of my greatest weaknesses as a leader is being a people pleaser. I hate for people to be mad at me or for people to be upset. I have always felt pressured to fix every single situation, every conflict, and everyone’s hurt feelings as a leader. One thing is for certain; it never works out. The old saying you can’t please everybody is still true today. I would try and fix all conflict in the church and do so at the sacrifice of my own personal health and the health of my family. I was setting up meetings in the evenings quite often and away from my family to handle situations that I wouldn’t be able to change anyways. If I was unhealthy or hurting, then it took my energy from leading and loving my family. I came home sad and quiet. I came home defeated and lonely.
I finally made the choice to guard my own heart and my family’s heart above all else.
Everyone cheers on a pastor as long as he’s saying and doing the things they want him to do. People will cheer you to your death. You see stories of pastors’ burned out, having moral failures, and quitting the ministry. At some point they didn’t guard their heart. I may upset some people by not giving them my time. I may hurt some people’s feelings by not coming to visit them or meeting up with them. I may make some people mad because they don’t like a decision that I made at some point. I have learned to be okay with it.
My success as a pastor is only as effective as my success at home. If I’m a better husband and father, then I’ll be a better pastor. But those first two had to come first. For several years they didn’t come first. I can honestly say that my health meter has went way up and I lead at a much better place now that my priorities are in the right place. The last two years have been incredible for my personal health as God has taught me this principle.
Don’t Seek a Platform; Build a Platform
I’ve been around ministry long enough and experienced the narcissism that comes with church planting. (And all church planters are narcissistic to some level or they wouldn’t want to lead their own church) But if you’re not aware of it and give in to it, you become obsessed with wanting your own platform. You want to be in charge. You want to get paid to do ministry. You want to be the one who gets the credit. You want to be a leader and you feel that no one else sees that potential or will let you lead. You really desire a title or a seat at the leadership table. These are all evident in a person’s life that seeks a platform.
One of the most valuable things God has taught me is to build a platform. In other words, live your life as a leader giving other people opportunities to lead and serve. It is humbling and yet rewarding. Our influence is never measured by what we build in life, but rather who we’ve built in life. Hollywood is where you want to go if you want to constantly receive rewards and recognition for your accomplishments. If you want to be in ministry, you had better prepare yourself to be thanked much less. But isn’t that what Jesus said that leadership looked like in HIS Kingdom? “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”. The last two years, God has led me to begin mentorships, one on one development, and focus my time and energy on building up other people.
At the end of the day, if my platform is all I’ve built, there will be no one still standing when I’m gone.
But if I’ve built a platform for others, then it becomes how much farther others can go without me. The church is built upon Jesus, not me. Pouring into others and watching them shine has become my life’s mission. I love watching others fulfill their potential. I pray that I live the rest of my days with that mentality.
That’s just a few of the things I’ve learned in the last five years. I am grateful for the blessings, the tough seasons, and for His grace in the midst of my own mistakes as a leader. I believe that God has so much more to teach me in these next five years. And I pray that my family and those that I influence will be better people because of what He teaches me. So, here’s to another five years of blessings and life change. May we never stop loving Jesus and loving people.
For He has done a great work IN me that He may do a great work THROUGH me.