More Lessons I've Learned as a Churchplanter: The Value of Starting Over

Last month I wrote a post on Lessons I have learned as a churchplanter in my first 6 months. It seemed to have struck a cord with some, so I plan to continue posting about the lessons that I am learning in the hope that it may help or encourage others of you who are on this same journey of churchplanting or church revitalization. I realize that 6 months doesn’t seem like a very long time, but I believe that the first year in the life of the new church is absolutely crucial to its sustainability and longevity.

I recognize that my model of church planting may not be the same as others of you who are currently planting, but I think that the lessons that I am going to share are universal and have value for anyone planting a new church or attempting to revitalize an existing congregation regardless of strategy.

Today I want to talk about the value of starting over.

Church planters have some obvious challenges that existing congregations do not have; on the other hand, we have some benefits that existing congregations do not have as well. One of the benefits in planting is that you can always dig up the seed or pull up the plant, discard it and start all over again.

When Sandra and I lived in South Florida, she tried her hand at planting a garden on several occasions. Of course, there are very few vegetables that grow well in the subtropical climate of South Florida, but she gave it the ole’ college try. She was actually successful at planting certain vegetables: tomatoes, green beans, jalapeno peppers (peppers of all variety in fact grow well down there), and cucumbers. Some vegetables just never would seem to grow however, and I recall several times where Sandra would pull up the old plant and re-plant it. Amazingly, if a seed is nurtured in proper soil, with the correct amount of sunlight and watered regularly, it will inevitably produce what’s on the seed package! The trick is to replant it; or to start over.

We church planters are a curious lot. We dive in to our assignment with great passion and vision. We begin putting the seeds in the ground with vigor and enthusiasm, but all-to-often we discover several months in that we planted in bad soil, or that our new church hasn’t been getting the proper amount of light or nutrients. We dejectedly confess that we are unworthy of our calling; we have failed; we just don’t have a green thumb. 

I have been in a season of questioning my call recently. The seeds that I have planted have produced some wonderful fruit, but they have also produced some sorry looking stalks with nothing to show for my hard work other than some withering leaves. If I were a farmer attempting to survive and provide for my family by producing and distributing my harvest for profit I would be a dismal failure. Thankfully I am not a farmer. I am a churchplanter, and I can always start over.

This is not a popular option however. It sounds rather like I am admitting failure; and, in fact, that is precisely what I am doing. I have no qualms about confessing my shortcomings. I have made mistakes. We all do. The question is: what are we going to do about them?

I’m planning on pulling up some of my failed attempts and creative strategies and tossing them out. I am not too proud to do this. 

There’s no fruit.

No sense beating a dead fig tree.

I am going to plant some new seeds, and I am going to work much harder at ensuring that these new seeds are planted in good soil, that they are watered regularly, and that they are given the proper amount of sunlight (translation: birthed and nurtured in prayer, sustained through wise counsel and in loving community, and faithfully entrusted to the Master Gardner [I Corinthians 3.7]). 

And then I am going to wait. 

Sometimes, the biggest problem we face in our planting is that we aren’t patient enough. We want the fruit right now. It doesn’t work that way. It takes some time to nurture these new plants, to prune them if necessary, to battle the weeds that will inevitably grow up alongside of them, and then finally to harvest them all in good time.

We have the luxury as new church start pastors and those working to revitalize congregations to experiment. We have the luxury to start over if necessary. We need to see this as a blessing and not as a sign of failure or lack of calling. Sometimes the stuff we plant just doesn’t grow, or it does grow but it doesn’t produce what it was intended to produce. It’s ok.

Just start over.


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