By Randall Wright
The message in my inbox that morning was a simple invitation,
but it sent my mind spiraling in different directions. The request: “Would you consider writing an article sharing the experience
of getting this far into your church plant?”
We will soon celebrate our third anniversary, and my initial thought was, “Are you kidding? There are dozens of church planters who are doing a much better job. I am the poster child of all things not to do. Apparently, they have not heard that I am about to publish my first book, Church Planting: What Was I Thinking?” (Okay, so I’m just kidding about that last part.)
As I agonized over the article, I wondered, “Should I write about the struggles, or should I write about the rewards? Should I talk about the good, or should I talk about the bad? Should I talk about how God has blessed, or should I share how Satan has battled? Should I talk about the blessing of being in a new building or tell about the Easter Sunday when a storm knocked out the power and kept us from getting into our storage facility to get our ‘church in a box,’ (the trailer that houses our chairs, podium, sound, etc.)”
One night, while returning home from our newly-built church with two of my children, Joshua and Rebekah, I shared my daunting challenge and asked what they thought I should write about. Their responses boiled down to two simple ideas: write about the struggles, and write about the rewards.
Then, my son Joshua said, “You should call it ‘The Rewarding Struggle.’” We all felt like we were onto something, so we took a vote. It was unanimous. We were all in agreement. After all, the three of us made up 60% of the original five members of our church, and we would talk to the other 40% when we got home!
Over the past three years, I have said often that church planting is both the most grueling and most gratifying thing I have ever done. To be honest, though, it is not just something I have done. It is something we have done as a family. So, in reflecting on this rewarding struggle we call church planting, it is obvious that this truly has been a family effort. So, I asked each family member to give me the number one truth they have learned about ministry since we began planting a church.
Principle #1 from Joshua: “Don’t take your church and ‘stuff’ for granted.”
Having spent our entire ministry (prior to church planting) in established churches, we did not realize how easy it is to take for granted all the things that make up a typical service. Most people give little thought to the items church planters set up and take down each week. Most people rarely come to church and think, “Oh, great, the speakers are still hung from the ceiling” or “Wow, someone has already set up the nursery this morning.”
Most children’s workers never find themselves asking, “Okay, which hallway has the most room to set up chairs for class?” Ministry in an established church and building has its own challenges, yet rarely do pastors worry about whether or not the building will be unlocked, or if everyone will be able to get in, since someone or several people usually have a key to the church facility. That is not always the case when renting a school or other types of facilities, and the only way the doors are unlocked is when a paid school employee gets there to unlock them. Over the years we have found ourselves laughing at these particular situations, and we have learned not to take anything for granted.
Photo: The Wright Family
Principle #2 from Rebekah:“People come and people go.”
When we first began thinking about church planting, several planters said, “Randall, you will go through three congregations before you have an established group.”
I would smile, and deep inside I thought: “I will be the exception!”
After three years, we have learned that someone else will have to be the exception! In a church plant, people really do come and go. In the past three years we have seen nearly 40 key people and workers leave for various reasons. These are not the people who visit and don’t return, or the ones who come for a while and then leave. These were people who served, gave, and helped carry out various ministries of the church.
Instead of mourning the losses, we have learned to celebrate and be thankful for the investment these people made while they were here. As you read the Apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament, you often find him giving thanks for people whom God had brought into his life who were no longer closely related to his ministry.
Principle #3 from Leah: “Be Flexible.”
Very few statements have been made more during our time of church planting. It is good to realize that it has taken root in my children’s hearts and minds. For three years, I have constantly reminded my family, our congregation, and myself to be flexible. Sometimes, they have had to remind me.
When you have no permanent meeting space, limited resources, and a small work force, it forces you to be flexible. When you have to set up equipment every Sunday, with temperamental sound and video equipment, you have to be flexible. Church plants and planters can quickly find themselves out of a contract with the place they have been meeting, and they are not quite into their new facility. In situations like this, a congregation may have to meet at parks, in homes, or even at a restaurant.
As a reminder, and in appreciation for our people’s flexibility, on our one-year anniversary, I gave all of our launch team a Slinky.
Principle #4 from Collette: “Have tough skin but keep
a soft heart.”
Church planting is not for the weak of heart, but you have to keep a soft heart. This endeavor can deliver some tough blows, which, if we are not careful, can become hardening agents to our hearts. Besides the natural challenges that come from moving to a new place, meeting new people, and trying to start a new church, you will face supernatural challenges from Satan. No matter how many people we reach, he will make sure we also face rejection. No matter how much good we do, he will certainly cause some to question our motives or criticize our decisions.
Jesus set the example for this when He said, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet” (Matthew 10:14). His words stand as a beacon of light to show us what to expect and how to respond. In other words, don’t let what happens on the outside stay with you; leave it behind. In the world of church planting, you may have to cultivate tough skin, but you must maintain a soft heart. After all, the quality of our lives is dependent upon the condition of our hearts (Proverbs 4:23).
Principle #5 from Randall: “Find your fulfillment in
Pastors and church planters are often results-oriented. (Guilty as charged!) If the attendance is up, we are up. If the turnout is down, we often go down with it. I am not saying this is the way it should be, or that it is always this way, but often a pastor’s spirit can fluctuate with visible results.
In these three years, I have learned this truth, and even had to lean on it more than ever. Faithfulness is the primary characteristic God calls for in His servants. “Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). I have come to realize that if we are faithful in little things, in His time, He will give us more (Luke 19:17).
Our faithfulness will be the basis of our reward when we stand before the Lord (Matthew 25:21). According to Revelation 2:10, being faithful unto death is the basis of receiving a crown of life.
In our church-planting adventure, which way do the scales tip? Do they lean toward the rewarding side, or are they weighted to the struggle? The answer is…yes! Some days, they lean more in one direction than the other. To realize, however, that my entire family has learned these valuable lessons about life and ministry certainly adds to the list of rewards.
And in the final analysis, regardless of which direction the scales tip, the thing that must always be acknowledged is that God is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9). Are you facing a struggle? Rest in the fact that God is faithful. Are you rejoicing in a long-awaited reward? Then rest in the fact that God is faithful.
About the Writer: Randall and Collette Wright and their children Joshua, Rebekah, and Leah are planting Clearview Free Will Baptist Church in North
Dallas, Texas. Learn more about the church at http://www.clearviewfwb.com.