The 3 “F”s of Church Planting

I was asked the other day to speak about my ‘church planting’ experience… you know the usual questions… Why should we church plant? Who should church plant? How did I start? What have I done? What would I do different next time?

But before I get to that I want to tell you a story. It happened many years ago, more years than I care to remember. While I can not remember all the faces I can remember the exact phrase which triggered something inside of me. I was teenager sitting in the congregation of a large conservative church and the sunday school superintendent got up to address the congregation and advertise the upcoming sunday school picnic. In so doing, he introduced me to the three F words of the Australian church. Fun. Food. Fellowship.

You probably can relate to those three words. They seem universal across all types of churches. The old fun, food and fellowship thing. When we can’t plan anything better, we pull out the old come along for some fun food and fellowship. Most of those events I went to weren’t much fun, and the food was usually an egg and lettuce sandwich, the fellowship – well the less said about that the better.

Here I am many years later and several years down my church planting journey and guess what I am doing? Yep, fun food and fellowship! (Although the expression is different, I might add).

But it is more than that! There are another three ‘f’ words I want to draw your attention to… Fear… Finance… Failure

It all seems so comical looking back to just before my church planting journey began. God must have been either laughing or crying or perhaps both when I first started. I can not believe how selfish, naive, ill-informed, how not in touch with reality… I could go on, but I won’t.

I was so fearful in the beginning but the strange part was I was fearful for the most stupid reasons! I was fearful because of what people would think if it failed. If I failed. I was fearful that this could be the end of my being a “minister”.

I also had a fear that my life was ebbing away and I hadn’t taken a step of faith. Now I know that seems strange because I had taken plenty of steps of faith in my life. I have been mocked, ridiculed and even had a gun pointed at me and it has only been faith in a great God that has seen me through. But the reality for me was that being a minister provided me with a great deal of security. Ministry (for me) was actually a small step of faith. I didn’t want to wake up years down the track on my last day before retirement and come to see it was all just a job.

Another deep seated fear was for my friends. Within the congreagtion was a small group of people who I owed so much to, and I felt a very keen sense of responsibility to them. I could not and would not continue to help people live the lie of a “comfortable” existance. I could not let them make the same mistake I was making in settling down, in taking small, self-assessed, safe steps. There had to be more than what we were experiencing!

I was also fearful that the dissatification I was feeling was eating me up and I could end up a very bitter, angry christian who did nothing other than criticise others for attempting to do something.

Fear caused me to think that a time would come where I would find it impossible to hear His voice. Because all I could hear was myself and others around me saying ,’the will of God is the safest place to be’. I knew He would always be asking me to do the impossible and if I kept on saying no I was afraid He would just move on to the next person and ask them.

But truth be known I had already sinned. I think I took the step of faith too late. And as a result I believe I am paying the price. But alas there is nothing I can do about that now.

The second ‘f’ I want to talk about is one my fellow Baptist buddies don’t like talking about unless of course we talk about it in the sense of ‘we have none’. While my more charasmatic brothers love too talk about it, and it’s probably one of the reasons why they are often have more of it than us Baptists 🙂 Of course the ‘f’ word is ‘finances’.

In my situation it was really pretty basic. I had none. And I guess I still have none. I had no finance to worry about. But the reality was and still is I cannot go more than 3 three weeks without pay or I will lose everything. That includes the house, our means of transport, everything. If I was a single man I don’t think I would be that worried, but the truth is I have a wife and two kids. I love to be able to provide for them! So with that in mind how could I plant a church with no money? If I couldn’t provide for my own family how could I ever provide the resources the church would need? Think about the activites of most churches, you will soon see that it all costs money. Money for staff? Money for instruments? Money for buildings? Money even for resources such as materials for youth group? The list is endless.

Now years down the track I understand that there are other ways of being the church which don’t require cash, but at the time I had no idea!

I was thinking in the beginning, how can I compete with the new mega church starting up just 5 minutes drive down the road! I know it’s sad hey? Why would anyone want to be part of us, we have nothing, they have everything… including dual projectors and a paid band!

 Now that leads me to my final ‘f’ word… failure!

 There was a time when I felt so defeated by my own short comings… a complete sense of lack of power that I considered giving everything away. But then I got out of the pity party and confessed my sin. The work is His, my ministry is not my ministry it’s His. So once again I gave it to Him and asked Him to do what He please and now I can leave the results up to Him!

Some of those failures have, in my mind, been huge. I have lost what I thought were key people. I couldn’t keep them. I felt like a failure. I don’t want to try and justify anything here, I am simply just trying to express how I felt.

One of our first families came to know Jesus after nearly 12 months. I know 12 months is a long time, but there is only 12 or so of us. That family has since left to go back to their home country. Why, did they go back? Well it was simple, her husband did not make the connections here, he did not develop a sense of belonging with people… with us. It seems as though you win some, not win some, and then lose them!

Another person who established a connection with us… well I am not real sure what happened but they have become involved in christian education in a great ministry, but as a result of the huge time commitments is not around much. We do our best to encourage and be part of their life but honestly they have that need meet in their workplace enviroment. So while I am happy for them, I still feel a little like a failure.

Our gatherings… mmm despite my best intentions they have not until recently been of much note. I struggle with small groups and so do some of our people, who are accustomed to leading large gatherings. To make matters worse we have tried several locations and at the moment we find ourselves meeting again in our home (which makes it very noise-intensive considering the young age of most of the kids).

But the biggest thing about failure is that at the very beginning of the journey I did not have a clear picture or understanding of what real failure would look like! My definition of failure has changed so much since I first began.

With all the highs and low of this church planting journey, I now define failure as ‘not loving the people He brings alongside my path’. I admit to Him that I am not in control of who joins us. I confess that even my good works are done out of some self centred egotisical side of my personality that is constantly looking to do it on my own. I now simply do my best to love whomever and how many He brings. The size of the gatherings is in His hands, and I will not obsess about it or give it so much mental space that the majority of the ministry which happens outside the 2 hour gathering is overlooked. I will do my best to be faithful and true to what He offers me. That doesn’t mean that I stop asking Him for more, but it means I will not use the numbers as an excuse to do what I should do right now.

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