10 years ago I started a church in Youngstown, OH. Here is the top advice I would have given a younger me.
1. Spend more time developing people than attracting them. Attraction fades, but development is forever.
It is easier to attract someone to a cause or a creative environment than it is to develop them into spiritual maturity. Make it your main priority to intentionally disciple every person that comes through the door. Your new church, talented musicians, and vibey location will wear off after a while. But, your investment into their spiritual development will affect them for the rest of their lives. Teach them how to read the Bible. Teach them how to walk with God and hear His voice. Teach them how to live on mission as they socialize, play, work and live. Teach them how to teach others. Let discipleship and spiritual development be the guiding principle on how you spend your time.
2. Center your ministry on the finished work of Jesus, not cultural relevancy.
This seems like a no brainer. But in a few years, you will be amazed at how easy it was to drift away from centering on the person and work of Jesus to something else entirely. The key word is “drift.” You won’t do it intentionally. And you won’t realize you are doing it until you look back and see how far you have incrementally moved away from the good news of all that God has done in Jesus. You will edge out the cross in favor of a new brand of works based justification and sanctification. Your push toward social activism must flow out of the gospel. If not, it is just a more relevant way of telling people to do better and try harder. Call people to rest in the finished work of Jesus and let that be the foundation for a culturally informed missionary movement in your city.
3. When conflict arises (and it most certainly will), entreat those involved as you would your children. Wear the hat of father, not that of CEO.
Conflict is reality that you will have to deal with on a daily basis. The key will be to love all parties like you do your kids. Care for them. Be firm with them. Plead with them. But do it all in an attitude of love. You are called to manage the church well, but do it with the patience of a father. You will want to react and distance yourself from the people causing conflict. Don’t pull away, move in close. That is what you would do with your kids. That is what you should do with your church.
4. Your leadership will be called into question on virtually every decision. Expect it. Learn. Be humble. Be confident.
People often want to be the leader until they get a taste of the dark side of leadership. The weight of individual opinions and critiques will feel crushing at times. The hardest part is that it won’t seem to ever let up. Embrace the questions and take the time to walk people through your thought process. Their challenges will sharpen your thinking if you can manage to stop taking it so personally. I know this is easier said than done, but it is key to your long-term mental health and spiritual vitality. Be teachable, but don’t be afraid to confidently set direction when the time comes.
5. Too much change will wear people out. Help them develop a sense of rest throughout the chaos of living on mission. Don’t be afraid to slow down and take your time.
I know you think that slowing down will slow you down. In fact, the opposite is true. Taking the extra time will allow you to get feedback from key leaders, make necessary adjustments, and over-communicate what everyone should expect. As a church plant, you are going to try a great deal of new things and put people in a number of new situations. This will be both exhilarating and exhausting. Pay close attention to how people are doing in the midst of change. Help them engage and work from a position of rest. Help them find their identity in Jesus in the midst of changes. Don’t be afraid to slow down. In the long term, it will help everyone dig deeper and run farther.
6. Don’t confuse your role of pastor with Jesus’ role of saviour. For reals, you can’t change anyone.
When you start your church, you are going to unknowingly be bringing a messiah complex along with you. It won’t be something you ever thought about, but it is going to show itself in the first few years. You will start to notice it as you find yourself completely discouraged at the lack of change that many people are exhibiting. As you mine your own heart, you will find that you mistakenly thought that you were the agent of change. You will think that if you spend time with people, give council, impart wisdom, set vision, and make a plan, then people will change. You will get very discouraged when this doesn’t happen. The good news is that you are not the hero of the story. There was another that came to change the world and He did the work that no mortal (including yourself) could have done. He is the promised one and every story whispers His name. Get to know Him. Let Him lift you up. Rest in the knowledge that it is He who will bring about change in the lives of people He has redeemed. Be encouraged. He is the one who started it, He will bring it to completion.
7. Through it all, find your identity and sense of self worth in the words of God rather than in the words of people.
Get ready because people will say all kinds of things about you. Some statements will be true, others will be said in total ignorance of the real story. They will treat you as any American celebrity and feel no remorse in saying all that is on their mind to everyone they meet. Because so much will come from close friends that you have poured your life into, it will sting like nothing ever has. You will wish that they would have come to you. You will want to lash out. You will want to defend yourself. You will get angry with yourself that you care so much about their opinions. It will drive you to dark places. Just know that this is coming. There is no easy way around it; it is all part of the burden of leadership. Clothe yourself in humility. Stay in constant communion with your God. Don’t harbor bitterness. Love them like your children. Above all, find your identity in what God thinks of you. When in doubt, look to the cross.
8. You will feel disillusioned more times than you expect, but don’t let it harden your heart toward the church.
No one in your church will battle disillusionment more than you. You will feel most discouraged at how easily people walk away from the church over issues they have with you but they will never talk to you about them. Instead, they will speak those issues to everyone else while ignoring your phone calls and emails. Don’t take it personally. Instead, seek to learn from them. Listen to what they say, even if you have to receive it second hand. Listen. Learn. Grow. Lead. Be strong in Lord and in the power of his strength. Don’t become jaded. Instead, foster a humble, teachable heart that listens to the voice of God. Fight for his church. Fight for his people. Don’t let your love grow cold.
9. Stay rested, eat right, and hold on. It is going to be a wild ride.
Don’t forget to take care of your physical health. You are going to need it for the upcoming decades of serving God with all your mind, heart, and strength. Don’t retreat to food, rather learn to relax into the one who holds your life in His hand. Stay fit for the journey. Someday the adventure will be over and you will have the awesome privilege of standing before the one who rescued you. Someday you will finally get to see Him face to face. When that day comes He is the only one who will truly understand what you are talking about when you look at Him with deep-seated joy and say, “Thank you so much. That was such a wild ride!”
Here are some pictures over the years. I am so thankful that I got to be a part of this.
*** To my Metro family, thanks for helping me grow over the years. You have sculpted my life in ways I could never have imagined. Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.**