WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN ABOUT ENERGY
Your energy—spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational—is the most important thing you can give your church, and only you can control it.
It may seem obvious, but this is crucial. Church planters tend to be the 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. It’s unsustainable.
While planting is a busy season, filled with meetings, getting stuff done, making phone calls, rallying a core group, and raising funds, you have to hit the pause button. No one can make you sleep, spend time with Jesus, 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.
Your energy is the most important thing you can give your church, and only you control it.
Many guys who fail in ministry and sin will tell you that it goes back to not managing one of these areas. Several years ago, I did not manage my energy well and I hit a wall. It slowed our church down, demoralized our leaders, and hurt my family, and it took a year to recover as a church.
The first question I ask my leaders when I coach them is to tell me how they are doing in these four areas: spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational energy. You as the leader set the tone.
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN ABOUT FAMILY
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, but sometimes it’s not true in practice. Though it happens occasionally, when missing time with your family is the pattern, I believe it is sin. One thing I learned from Eugene Peterson was that 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 or an activity with his kids, he said he had an appointment. No one questions your appointments.
Talk about this 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, and 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.
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN ABOUT TEAMS
Who you surround yourself with will determine your effectiveness, and 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, and what you do that brings the most glory to God. Then you must look for leaders who complement your gifts.
If you are a strong visionary and can see the future, you must find someone who can think in steps and 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 truth and not coddling.
Your first hire is the most important. Don’t rush this. If someone isn’t working out, don’t wait around. Move quickly to help them find a new role and responsibility. If they don’t line 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.
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN ABOUT CHURCH GROWTH
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, but now you are dealing with what just happened. In this time, it is easy to stop dreaming, stop vision-casting, and just do.
But that 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?”
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN ABOUT MISTAKES
You will make mistakes—so learn from them. In fact, you’ll make mistakes 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 the results we hoped to get: we weren’t seeing disciples made and community happen. So two years into our church 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, get a coach—someone who is steps ahead of you in the journey. Get someone you respect who can speak into your leadership, 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.
WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN ABOUT COMMITMENT
Commit to outlast everyone. Put down roots and commit to one church and city. 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 and to that city. Put down roots.
When we started our church, our prayer was that we would die in Tucson. We wanted to give our lives to one church, to one city, and to one movement. We prayed that a million people would follow Jesus because of our church. This commitment has helped when times are the darkest, because sometimes your calling is all you have. You will come back to it, 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, my wife and I would look at each other and say, “We decided to outlast them, so let’s push through.”