“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
My dad was one of those guys who believed wholeheartedly in the above quote by Roosevelt and he taught me to believe it too. So, when I started hearing that church planting was hard work I was o.k. with the possibility of adversity, turmoil and the up and down emotional roller coaster that would accompany with this kind of ministry.
Back in seminary when I first thought of planting a church a friend and fellow student who was already planting warned me of the dangers that lied ahead of me. “When you plant everything changes” he said. “Your life will change, your marriage will change, even your sex life will change because of the church.” He spoke from experience and real world pain of being a church planter. I believe and deeply appreciate his wisdom.
For years I have heard church planting is hard. I have even told people it is probably the hardest task in all of Christian ministry. This was not based on experience, but hearsay. I even went so far as to tell people, “I would rather try to turn around a failing and dying church than start a new one.”
I have seen the proof of difficulty in church planting when I saw guys almost bankrupt themselves and their families financially in an effort to plant. In having seen relationship destroyed, marriages divided and families beat up (not literally) because of a church plant. Recently, I heard a podcast talking about the pressure to succeed in church planting. The speakers talked about the alarming rates in which planters will unconsciously sabotage their marriages with inappropriate relationships or outright affairs in order to wreck their plant so they don’t have to face the reality that they failed at planting a church!
Earlier this year I was denied entry into a church planting organization because they thought I was too hard on myself. I was “too honest” about my weaknesses, lack of gifting and potential for sin. They said church planting was hard enough, but with my own self deprecation it might be too much for me to handle.
I fully agree with the prevailing truth that church planting is hard, but so what? What part of church ministry is not hard? What part is easy? Being a missionary? Nope. Leading people in worship? Nope. Pastoring existing churches? Nope. No part of church/Christian ministry is easy. Its all hard. It might be a different kind of hard, but all of ministry is painstaking, heart wrenching and demanding.
Having grown up and worked in several churches, I have seen a lot of the hardships of church work. I have seen discontented congregations stop following their leadership because they did not like them. I have seen churches bury their wounded instead of helping them heal. I have seen church leaders fall because of incompetence, fear and moral compromise. I personally have been lied to, cheated and fired with out conversation from churches. I have had to counsel failing marriages, deal with bomb threats and bury church member. I have seen church leaders physcially assault each other, stab each other in the back and steal money and people from the church.
This was all before starting to plant a church. What part of this was easy? None of it! So, what makes church planting sooooo hard. Nothing. Nothing out of the ordinary in church minsitry.
Its not that church planting is harder than any other part of church ministry, it is all difficult. And we have to face this fact. Anything worth having is worth working for. This is just a true principle of life. Relationships, businesses or home ownership all require work and attention. So when we start to talk about church work and throw in the spiritual dimension (Eph 6:12) it only gets harder.
In order to brace myself for this hardship I hold on to three views or values that help me when church planting gets hard and crushing:
- My ego (re: identity or value) is not tied to my success or failure.
- Success or failure (however you define these terms) is irrelevant.
- God’s love is enough to sustain me.
All of those in church work of any and every kind would do well to repeat these three mantras over and over again. I do.