My team and I have been planting this church in Harlem for the last six months, and by the grace of God we’re growing. We’re at/near all of our goals, and it’s been one of the most nauseating roller coasters of growth and defeat I’ve ever been on. While I’m loving the journey, it’s far different than what I expected it to be.
I’ve had dozens of conversations with pastors and church planters about what to expect, and while those conversations benefited me greatly, none fully prepared me for the pressures and fears I experience on a semi-regular basis. No matter how much anyone tells you something, you have to experience it for yourself.
Still, there are some things I’m learning and experiencing while planting that people who’ve already arrived safely at a self-supporting church have long since forgotten.
So as a brother – not as a mentor — here are five things I’m learning while planting that I hope encourage my fellow church planters.
- Your idols will be exposed early and often.
In gathering people and funds, I’ve often relied on my (self-proclaimed) charisma or natural ability to connect with people. But, inevitably, the partner you really wanted on board says they can’t support, or the couple that would be a great help stops returning emails, and the thing you’ve been relying on fails you.
It’s been crushing, because “me” and my “skills” are idols. Oftentimes, I’ve put my ultimate hope in those idols to grow this church. That’s incredibly embarrassing to admit, but God is gracious enough to let the idols fail and grow me to dependence on Him.
- An early “no” or hesitancy isn’t a final “no.”
When I worked as a lawyer, clients came to me out of necessity, which meant I never had to convince them to work with me. With a church plant, it’s the opposite—I’m often casting vision to people that don’t have church on their radar. Consequently, it takes time for people to warm up to the idea, and more than I realized, early disinterest often takes time to grow into excitement. Some people who once took weeks to respond to emails are now in our core group and actively involved in the plant.
Measuring the growth of the plant is better done quarterly as opposed to day-to-day.
- The mythical church planter doesn’t exist.
Some of the most deflating conversations I’ve had on this journey have been with other church planters. Some have been egregiously long-winded about their successes and painfully short about the difficulties, or more importantly, the source of their “success.” It’s left me feeling inadequate (which I am), but even worse, flat out jealous.
After sheepishly asking follow-up questions, I’ve found no one arrives in a city and without a sending church, gathers 100 people and a million dollars in a month. The more you dig, the more you find that quick financial or personnel starts are the result of resources that aren’t at everyone’s disposal.
- More important than gathering people is gathering the right people.
Inevitably, there are opportunities to gather people that don’t fit with our church plant’s vision. And it can be hard to let those people go. While I want people to get on board with what we’re building, I can’t compromise the vision for the sake of adding numbers. Sometimes the best thing I can do is be clear about how what we’re building doesn’t align with what a person is looking for. While it is temporarily painful to point people in a different direction, the reward of having the right people can’t be overstated.
- Jesus builds His church.
This is cliché, I know. It’s actually something I would have rolled my eyes at a couple months ago, thinking it’s something pastors say when they aren’t under the pressure I’m feeling. When you’re under the pressure of your plant “thriving” or “failing” in it’s infancy, that phrase has a different and less assuring resonance.
But if I’m honest, the fruit and real growth that we’ve seen has been through the conviction and moving of the Spirit in people’s lives – many times in unplanned ways. It’s humbling and terrifying to know that you’re not in control, which is why I try to leave it up to me. But every day I’m learning to lean on Jesus, because He wants His church to thrive more than I ever will. I know that to be a fact, because despite my many inadequacies, I’ve witnessed Jesus build our community in Harlem.
Jordan practiced law in New York for 6 years before leaving law to plant Renaissance Church in Harlem. He’s a hopeless Knicks fan, and thrives on a diet of food trucks and Cap’n Crunch. He lives in Harlem with his wife Jessica.