The following post is from JoshTalks.com in which he shares from his heart about the mistakes he made in church planting. I’ve made the same ones too.
Church Planting Mistakes
Thursday, August 13, 2009
10 Mistakes I’ve made while planting Connect Rome.
This is part of a series that begins here.
I didn’t have healthy ways to deal with anxiety.
What’s interesting is I play the stress thing pretty well. I am great at covering it up. In fact, most would be (and now are) surprised to learn that I deal with stress and anxiety. I move rapidly. I deal with problems and issues swiftly. And, typically (not always), I feel like I make pretty good assessments and solutions. And the problem for me isn’t really my job. I love my job. I know that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
My problem is I have no escape. My brain never stops thinking about the church or the people I lead. I have no real hobbies. But even that statement isn’t true. I have hobbies (I love basketball, disc golf, climbing, biking, etc). I just don’t make time for them. The only hobby that I have made time for is Church. And I love Church.
I read tons of blogs. Listen to too many podcasts.I hit up the conferences, and I visit every church website I can. I go to online church. If it’s church then I’m paying attention to it. And for some people, church, as a hobby, works for them.
It doesn’t for me. It usually either leavess me beat down or puffed up. I play the comparison game. And in the comparisons, my ego is either stroked or smashed. It’s beyond unhealthy.
This has caused me to be run-ragged and insecure. I have wondered on several occasions whether or not I was equipped or capable of leading a church. For me, it’s no different than escaping to pornography (which isn’t a temptation anymore but was an issue in my past) or a bottle of rum (which is currently a huge temptation for me).
If you are a church planter (or really anyone starting a new endeavor or leading a high stress job), your body and mind need rest. Your family and the organization you lead need you healthy. No one needs you to be a roller coaster (and no one needs you to be a super hero.) If you don’t figure out a way to do it healthily, you will do it in an unhealthy way. It has the capability of destroying your ministry, but more importantly, it has the capability of destroying your family.
Here, let me say it this way… Satan is real. He hates what you are doing. And if you allow him to, he will destroy you.
I sometimes forgot that this was God’s thing.
Ridiculous, huh? I’ve been in the middle of planting a church. Our objective has always been to make it simple for people to connect to God and each other. We took a year to plan. And through the entire year, God provided. He provided us with an incredible venue for free! You can read about it here. We got an incredible sound system and a lot of production equipment through a literal act of God. People who I had never spoke to showed up and signed up to be a part of Connect Rome. We got a GREAT deal on some additional downtown space that now serves as our children’s space and an incredible Monday – Saturday full service coffee shop. God was all over the deal. Weekly, we were seeing incredible, supernatural things happen. In the past 4 1/2 months (We launched on March 29th), we’ve witnessed 77 people begin a relationship with Jesus. There was and is no way you could convince me that God is not real. Because, over the last year, I’ve personally experienced Him move.
And that’s what makes this mistake so ridiculously stupid. I knew God was real. I knew God was loving and gracious. I knew God wanted to bring His kingdom to Rome, GA. I knew that this thing was only going to work if He was leading it. But… At times I was impatient and insecure. I played the comparison game. I knew people who launched their church with twice as many people as we did. Their were several churches that launched around the same time that had a lot more folks coming each week. And don’t even get me started on giving… our church giving ratios were way down.
These things distracted me from what God had been and was doing. And I jumped on the roller coaster. Weeks where we were up in attendance and giving – I celebrated what “God did.” Weeks where we were down (and trust me there were those weeks) – I beat myself up. I tore myself apart for not being a Godly leader or charismatic personality.
It wore me out. Actually, it wears me out. This one I still struggle with. Success was important to me. I had 3 month goals. We were behind. I had 6 month goals… and there is a lot we need to do to get us there.
So, I made a decision. Albeit, really really stupid. I focused more on my ability than God’s sovereignty. There were weeks where I prayed very little. Lots of weeks. I prayed in front of people. And I believed what I prayed. But in my own quiet time, I was to busy scheming, strategizing, and trying to innovate that I left out my time with God. I wanted God to do something incredible in our church, but I didn’t give him anytime to do anything incredible in my own life.
I got so busy doing things for God that I stopped spending time with God. I was sinful. I knew it was wrong… I think. I know, now, that it’s wrong. I really do.
God has done incredible things at Connect Rome. Really. Incredible. But trust me when I tell you that it hasn’t happened because of my great speaking skills (listen to a podcast sometime… I’m as awkward a communicator as you will ever hear) or my great leadership abilities (I’m learning, but I have a long way to go). Something incredible has happened only because God is incredible. Don’t get me wrong. Our team is great. They work hard. They are talented. They have pursued God with faith in action. And our faith has collided with God’s faithfulness. And it’s God’s faithfulness that has made all the difference.
God cares more about Connect Rome than I ever will (and I love this movement). God cares more about the church than you ever will.
We get that. Well we get it as long as we’re meeting our checkpoints. It’s God’s thing. It’s God’s plan. It’s God’s bride.
I once heard Andy Stanley talk about a quote he has on his computer screen. It says this: God you got me in to this. I’m expecting you to get me through it. I love it. It’s accurate. It’s God’s thing. Not mine.
I’m convinced people will crawl through cow manure if they truly believed that it would make a difference in the world. However, I think they’d want to know before hand so that they could dress appropriately and prepare themselves.
Quite simply, as a leader, I didn’t give people the opportunity to dress appropriately and prepare themselves. I stood in the way of them being prepared to do whatever it took to make it simple for people to connect to God. And I stood in the way of being able to help develop folks to be all that God made them to be.
I discovered that not clearly defining expectations for staff and volunteers created two major issues (and hundreds of minor ones.)
1. I frustrated them. In fact, I made them hate their roles serving. They didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t know the objective. They didn’t know what the win was, so they didn’t even know if they were being effective. Essentially, I used the traditional excuse of “I don’t have time to micromanage people. They’ll just have to figure it out on their own.” Unfortunately, they do figure it out on their own… They either leave or they create their own expectations.
2. They frustrated me. After all, I had expectations. I just didn’t know I had them or know how to communicate them. Which, subsequently, meant that we had a bunch of people working really hard, doing things passionately, that completely stood directly in the way of the vision and mission of Connect Rome. And it was very hard to correct because they didn’t even know they were limiting the movement. I didn’t clearly define what they were supposed to do, but I still expected them to do it.
My advice: you can’t afford to not clearly define expectations. Valuable people will leave your organization, rightfully frustrated. Not because God’s sovereignty lead them elsewhere, they’ll leave because you weren’t a leader worth following.
If I had it to do over again, I would have been very intentional about clearly defining expectations. In fact, I would have, in the beginning, written job descriptions for every volunteer and staff position. I would have also made sure that every volunteer knew exactly who to ask if they needed help or direction. I’m not good at these things, but there are people out there who are. Michael and his team at Oak Leaf Church are amazing at these things. And they’ve made all of their documents and forms available for $79. And it’s a quick easy download. I promise you, it’s definitely worth the price.
If I were you, if you are leading a church, I would buy those documents today. You can get them by clicking here.
I’m sure this is a common mistake, but it has the capability of destroying you, your family and your church. And you’ll think it’s justifiable.
I kind of thought of myself as a super pastor. I didn’t mean to fall in to that role. It just happened. Each day I’d wake up with a giant task list that seemed never ending. I would knock out one task at a time. Sometimes the day would be greater than 20 hours long. I knew I should hand things off. I knew that I should ask for help and empower others. But for me it was more complicated then simple delegation. There were other things that I had to overcome first.
1. I was a control freak. I didn’t think anyone would do as good a job as I did. So I just did it. It was easier to just do it than to teach someone else how to do it.
2. I didn’t trust people. I had been let down before. People didn’t come through. I didn’t want to chance that happening again.
3. I felt guilty. After all, I was the full time time employee. I was the one being paid to “do the work” and I felt guilty asking other people.
4. I was disorganized. I couldn’t delegate because I didn’t know what to give away. I was kind of figuring it out as I went along. I couldn’t tell someone what needed to be done if I hadn’t figured out what needed to be done yet.
The list is probably longer, but these were the main things that I deal with. Here’s how I overcame (or am overcoming) these problems.
#1 & #2 -
When you are juggling way too much stuff, you start to drop a lot of balls. Being a control freak who didn’t trust people wasn’t a very productive or efficient way to juggle balls. I wish I would have taken the chance earlier with people, but I didn’t. Instead, When balls dropped, instead of putting back in to my juggling routine I gave them to other people.
Months in to planting Connect Rome, I became challenged with a question (i’m not sure where the question originated – but i think it was in my head)… Would I still pastor and plant Connect Rome if no money was involved? – i.e. would I plant Connect Rome for free? And my answer was ABSOLUTELY. I wasn’t doing this for money; I was doing this because I believe God wanted us to make it simple for people to connect to God and each other. And by not giving other people ownership in this movement, I was withholding their opportunity to serve God in a great way. It was prideful to think I was the only God wanted to use at Connect Rome. And it was arrogant of me to think that people were serving me and not God. If you aren’t delegating responsibility and empowering others to lead you are crippling the movement that you are leading.
It was obvious. I was running a million miles a minute trying to take care of the urgent. Part of my problem was that I didn’t delegate responsibilities so I didn’t have time to plan. But the other problem was that I didn’t plan so I didn’t know what responsibilities to delegate. It was a vicious cycle. And I was run ragged. I finally chose to neglect ever daily task for a few days. Instead, I woke up, met with God, and strategically planned and defined every need and task that Connect Rome had. I then started one by one handing off the tasks and defining expectations. Something crazy happened. I discovered margin in my life. I had time to spend with God and my family. It was nice.
After finally beginning the delegation process, I started getting phone calls and emails from folks that were serving at Connect Rome. They were telling me how grateful they were to have the opportunity to serve and how God was transforming and blessing their lives through service. I know this is simple, and I’m sure most of you are light years of ahead of me in understanding this, but delegation is important. It allowed me the opportunity to do exactly what God has called me to do, and it’s given a ton of other people the opportunity to get in on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Rome!
First Order of Business: Set up twitter and start a blog.
After all, isn’t that what church planters are supposed to do? I started writing clever blog posts and witty tweets. I checked my stats daily. I was excited when traffic was coming to the blog. I was also excited when new people started following me on twitter. I would spend hours on twitter and blogs creating new friendships with my new colleagues. I started setting up appointments with all of the premier church planters in the southeast. If there was a crack in the door, I pushed myself through it. I met with some great people. And in reality, I learned a lot. But, my agenda was wrong. I was only partially trying to learn from others – mostly, I was searching for validity from church planters and pastors. I wanted them to tell me I was going to succeed. I wanted them to see all of my great attributes and experiences that were priming me to be a great leader of a new church.
Truth was I was scared and felt pretty freakin’ incompetent. I had only 6 or so years in ministry experience and most of that was in student and college ministry. Could I lead adults? Was I a leader worth following? Did I look the part? (To this day, I’ve still never bought anything from Buckle, I don’t have many fancy embroidered button up shirts, and I don’t own any Italian Leather boots). The whole thing is overwhelming. And worse than being overwhelming, there’s really no way to gauge success. There was no rating system. I was a church planter – essentially I was my own boss. There were no performance reviews, nor was there some type of network in my area of other guys doing the same thing. Therefore, my rating system became traffic flow, twitter followers, and name dropping.
Look, I know it’s silly. (I also know that there are people who read this blog that are also doing those same things.) Pastors are not immune to the comparison game and having insecurity. In fact, I would say MOST pastors and church leaders struggle with it.
But here’s what I discovered:
God called me to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Rome, GA. And although pastors from other parts of the country are incredibly valuable sources of information, direction and encouragement, they do not live in my community nor do they have the time to help impact my community. And the people in my community who have the time, resources, and desire to change the city of Rome don’t know the fancy pastor or church names. They don’t care if I dress as good as Ed Young or speak as intellectually as Mark Driscoll. In fact, the majority of them don’t know who Ed Young, Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick Mark Batterson, Billy Hybels, or Francis Chan are. (Most of them do however know who Joel Osteen is… I’m considering dying my hair black, getting a perm, and sporting a borderline mullet.) All they know is that they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and they are looking for someone to lead the way.
And I’ve wasted valuable time promoting myself rather than talking about our mission and leading the way.
And here’s my advice ( I know I’m a nobody w/ very little experience and not a lot of useful information – and you’ve read this far so it won’t kill you to read a few more sentences), chase after people who are where you want to be. Spend time with them. Take a journal with you and write down everything they say. There is a lot of really great, smart, Jesus loving, courageous leaders out there. BUT, don’t exchange spending time with people in your community, developing friendships, and talking about the way things could be just so you can write about some pastor you just had a conversation with on your blog. Jesus said the Harvest is plenty and the workers are few.
For me, I wish I would have spent a lot more time building workers.
Unfortunately, I chose to do a lot of other things, too. I also was going to school full time (15 hours a semester at Liberty Seminary). Fortunately, 95% of my course work was online, but it still took me a good deal of time. And if that wasn’t enough, I also was working a part time job 30 hours a week. And in the middle of all the work and school, my wife gave birth to our first child. We were scheduled to go in to the hospital on a Thursday evening in July. 10 minutes prior to going to the hospital, Julie (that’s my wife) and I were at a print shop printing 1000s of pieces of material for Connect Rome. While we were at the hospital, a portion of my time there was spent stuffing envelopes. My plate was more than full. I’ve always suffered from being a workaholic but this was definitely overkill. When my kid (Briggs) was 6 days old I packed him up and took him to a launch team meeting. Julie was incredibly sick, but it was imperative that I still lead the meeting. So, I took Briggs and left my really sick wife in bed alone at our home.
At the time, I was able to justify it.
65 hours a week working on Connect Rome was my calling. I couldn’t sacrifice the incredible thing God had called me to lead. I was going to do it right and well.
With all of the justifications aside, and now a few months removed from a part time job and full time schooling, I can view this a little more objectively. Here’s the real reason I did all of these things: TRUST. I didn’t fully trust God, and I definitely didn’t fully trust people. In a later post, I’ll talk more about my horrible delegation skills. But I really had a hard time trusting other people to competently do things for Connect Rome. I was a control freak. And I ran myself ragged.
School was a good move for me. I’m grateful that I am now finished with another degree, but I did that for the wrong reasons, as well. In the middle of taken Religion and philosophy classes, I also took several education classes. In fact, I was able to pick up a teaching certificate. Why, you ask? Just in case God didn’t come through with this church plant, I’d have a back up plan. I could teach. God was doing amazing things with Connect Rome. Things that proved His love, grace and desire to see people connected to Him, but I was too busy reading textbooks to appreciate it.
Back last fall, God spoke clearly too me. I wrote about it in a post HERE. Ultimately, I discovered that even though God was enough for me, I didn’t live like I believed that. God had made provisions for me to solely focus on Connect Rome and not need a different job. I decided that I had a better, more comfortable plan. I was sinful. I was wrong. And I missed out on a great deal of my boy’s first year of life.
Ultimately, I didn’t have time to celebrate the great things in the life of our family and church. My boy smiled, rolled over, crawled, stood up and walked. Those are milestones. I was too busy thinking about what’s next for the church. I didn’t have time to stop and celebrate. I had no margin.
71 people have begun a relationship with Jesus at Connect Rome. Marriages have been restored. God has provided free facilities and a great staff. We launched a full time coffee shop that is giving every money every week to our community. Did I celebrate? Did I stop and thank God? I think I kind of did publicly because I’m supposed to… but privately I haven’t. I didn’t have time for celebration… I had no margin. I only had time to plan the future.
Here’s what I’m learning: God’s got the future. In fact, He has the present covered as well. He needs me to spend less time trying to play super pastor and more time being His child.
So, if you’re starting something new right now, get to work. and work hard. Just leave a ton of margin in your life to actually celebrate what God is doing in it. If you aren’t doing that… then it’s not about God. You’ve made it about you. Trust me, I know.