What I Learned as a Church Planter: Prepare for the End… (Pt. 1)

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church planting 10I never thought I would be one of “those” people: a “failed church planter.” I was certain that within 2 years we’d have this large church with an amazing, large staff doing tremendous things that make a huge difference in the city. Bigger! Better! Faster! Those idealistic dreams were almost an after-thought. I had built the church’s success in my mind before the church had actually come to fruition!

And if you’re honest, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We all go into church planting with these grand dreams and visions, with idealism oozing from our being, all the while stuffing realism into the trunk! This isn’t always a bad thing… in fact, it’s what makes us the crazy ones with a sort of entrepreneurial spirit that drives us to try, experiment, and start new things! This is one of the ingredients of a church planter: an unshakable desire to pioneer and start something new with Jesus at the center. (Alan Hirsch calls this the “Apostolic Genius”.)

All of this idealism we experience at the beginning doesn’t always come to fruition at the end. Inevitably, some of us will walk down a road we never thought possible staring at the difficult and gut wrenching decision to close the doors of the plant for good. I never thought that would be me… and some of you, right now think the exact same thing: “That will never be me.” (I want to take a sidestep for a moment and recommend a podcast called Start Up. It’s a great podcast about the ups and downs of starting a company, documentary style. The similarities between their experiences and the experience of a church planter are startling. Give it a listen!)

While my hope and prayer is that you would never have to join the fraternity/sorority of the “failed” church planter—honestly it feels too much like a secret society filled with shame, but that’s a different post for a different time—I do, however think there are some things one can do to prepare on the front side for what may become a reality. I believe this series of posts (Prepare for the end) are vitally important for the church planter. Too often I have seen church planters leave ministry after the closing of a church plant and I’m tired of seeing that happen. I want to help mitigate some of that by getting us thinking and preparing for that possibility. Over the next couple of posts I want share some of these ways. These posts aren’t comprehensive and so I want to invite you to add to them as well–especially if you’re a “failed” church planter like me.

Live with the fragile nature of the church.
As with any start-up (again check out the Start Up Podcast!), it doesn’t take a lot to see it all come crumbling down. We typically hear the stories of moral failure bringing down a church plant, and usually when a church shuts down we’ve been conditioned to think: “Oh, he must have been caught with hookers while snorting coke!” And yes, unfortunately these stories do happen–perhaps too frequently–but I’ve been surprised at just how little it can take to end the life of a church.

In my case it was burnout. Burnout led the dominoes to start falling. It led to how I treated my staff, how I treated my leaders, my volunteers, how I treated people within the congregation. My burnout led to me placing greater and greater expectations on everyone that they simply could not meet–and then I’d get angry at what I perceived as their lack of commitment. It was a vicious cycle that continued until I had dug a hole so deep, I couldn’t get out of by myself. Other stories of “failure” have been purely financial: the new church simply could not support itself independently. Others revolve around an inability for the new church to gain any traction with the vision and values. Regardless, there are a myriad of ways in which a new church does not make it. New churches are fragile.

It is important for you, as a church planter, to live with the understanding that the new church is fragile. This brings about a greater sense of perspective, a perspective of appreciation, a healthy temperance to taking ill advised risk, a greater appreciation for the work you are engaging in, and ultimately a perspective that helps you realize that this is Jesus’ church, not yours. Remember, this can all be gone in an instant. Own the fragility of the church.

(At the risk of sounding contradictory, I also want to say a new church is also rather resilient. One or two, even 10 missteps will not doom a church. You’d be amazed at what it can handle.)

Owning the fragility of the church is a way of preparing you for the end. This nugget helps to bring about a sense of perspective not only in the throws of planting, but on the other side of “failure” as well. This perspective helps to create space in your heart and mind so that you can get back up, heal, and continue in ministry in some capacity. It also gives you the head and heart space to effectively evaluate what went wrong on the other side. (In all honesty, that is the space from where all of these posts–10 of them now–have been borne.)

[In the next edition of “Prepare for the end” I want to talk about having a financial contingency plan.]

Three: A Dad Reflects On His Daughter’s Third Year of Life

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THREEI stood in her doorway to watch her sleep. She was bigger now and yet somehow just as tiny as the day we brought her home from the hospital. Her sweet and mischievous attitude painted all over her tiny little face, and her adventurous/daredevil-ish spirit marked up and down her legs from leaping off the furniture, rolling around and tumbling outside in the grass, and sprinting through the house with a carefree spirit squealing like a banshee. That’s my little girl: my silly, crazy, bright, joyous, wonderful little girl. I stood there silently in her doorway mourning the passing of her “two’s.”

That moment sunk in heavy…

That’s the strange thing about time, it passes along slowly, rhythmically, regularly, always rolling, always ticking, always moving, and yet the milestones that arise with the passing of time always sneak up on you. Time seems to lull us into a sense of security, a sense that nothing will ever change… and yet the reality is: with the passing of time, nothing will ever be the same.

I stood there in the doorway and smiled as tears welled up in my eyes. I love this little girl more and more every day. I love reading stories to her at night—which is more about her making up stories about the stories we’re reading than actually reading the stories right there in front of us. I love praying with her as we tuck her in—you get a beautiful glimpse into her sweet and tender heart, the love that she has for people and the astute awareness she possesses for what is actually going on beneath the surface of people’s lives. I love her carefree spirit and her fearlessness—unless it involves eating meat, she just won’t eat meat (“papa, I just don’t like it!”), and somehow that makes me feel like I’ve failed her as a father. I love who she is and I love who she is becoming; which inevitably involves change.

Oh change.

She is changing right before my very eyes and I don’t want to blink!

I love fatherhood. I love the ability, the opportunity, the responsibility you have to shape and mold a little person, but it’s also a delicate balancing act: molding her into who you want her to be versus who she really is. I am learning more and more about the delicate nature of these scales: to not impose who you want her to be or think she ought to be, but instead to help her steward the life she has been given, to help her see who it is that God has created her to be, to help her listen to the inner voice of love that permeates her being, and let her life speak. Because when it happens, when you actually let her life speak, you begin to see just how special a gift she is to the world. It’s a big responsibility as a parent to help your little one learn how to steward their life and at the same time it’s a huge honor. I love this honor, I love helping her steward her life, and I love helping her be the person she was created to be.

I stood there silently in her doorway as she slept. I mourned the passing of her “two’s” and I welcomed in a new chapter of change: my little girl is three-years old.

Currently » 07

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currently
Reading | That moment you finish all of the core courses in your PhD program and submit your candidacy paper for review is an amazing feeling, and at the same time it is the first time you don’t have any assigned reading! This means you get to look through the stack of books you’ve been holding onto and pick one… but oh man, that’s some pressure. You don’t want to blow it! So, I picked up Robert Capon’s book “The Mystery of Christ… & Why we don’t get it.” From the outset it’s a challenging book on grace that really pushes your ideas to the limit. I’ve loved it so far. You can also check out what I’ve been reading lately over on Goodreads if you’re curious.

Loving | A few weeks of free brain space! Since I submitted my candidacy paper for review (entitled: “The Negro and the Imago Christi: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Souls of Black Folk“) I have a few weeks of a break ahead of me, providing me the opportunity to rest a bit and enjoy a small intermission!

Looking Forward To | My daughter is turning three, and this coming weekend is her “My Little Pony, Purple Unicorn” birthday party. (I can’t believe she’s turning three already! Whoa.)

Challenged By | They say that if you’re not being challenged by something, you’re not really growing. In this season of life I have been challenged by a lot, slowing down to take notice and reflect on those challenges is where the growth begins… That’s what I’m being challenged with at the moment, slowing down long enough to take notice and reflect, to actually create intentional spaces of reflection. I journal infrequently, not because I don’t like it but because as a daily discipline it gets really dry for me. Perhaps an intentional weekly rhythm is more suited? We shall see.

Two: A Dad Reflects on His Daughter’s Second Year of Life

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Two Year Old
Two. Years. Old.

Seriously. My little Elliot Grace is two years old.

It seems like only yesterday that we brought her home from the hospital. Only yesterday that we wondered why on earth the nurses were okay with letting two completely inexperienced parents leave the hospital with a brand new baby girl. “All they made us do was sign a paper? That’s it?! What are they thinking?! Why, oh why didn’t we take those parenting classes?! Now what do we do? What’s next?” Only yesterday that our eyes were opened wide with fear to the realization that we were on our own now. The fear of newly minted parents had grabbed us with a force beyond recognition as we gingerly walked away from the safety of the hospital and into the waiting world of possibility.

My little girl is two years old and I can’t believe how much she has changed in the past year. She doesn’t walk and stumble along anymore, she runs. She doesn’t string together a few random words and sounds expecting us to understand exactly what she means, she weaves together stories. She can count to 20, she knows her ABC’s, loves the “Happy Meal Song”, can sing most of the Frozen soundtrack a capella from memory, and even has a couple of her books memorized so when we skip pages to expedite putting her to bed, she calls us out on it. It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating her first year of life, that I was reflecting on this newly minted state of fatherhood, and now we have a toddler.

We have a toddler who loves being around people, who continually asks to go outside so she can “go make friends”. We have a toddler with such an adventurous spirit that she always climbs up and conquers the biggest slide on the playground, always demands to be pushed “higher papa!” in the swing, and loves to ride the rides at the county fair. We have a toddler whose smile can light up a room and whose giggle is contagious. We have a toddler.

Becoming a first-time father in your 30’s, after 10 years of marriage, isn’t the easiest change one can go through. Rhythms are set, life has a routine about it, you have become comfortable and certain degrees of selfishness are easily overlooked. Elliot Grace has changed all of that for me. She has forced me to confront my selfishness, confront my unhealthy rhythms of life, confront my self. Elliot Grace has made me a better person. And that may sound strange to hear, but this I believe, is one of the great gifts she brings to the world.

This little girl is growing up, and with each passing day she captures a new part of my heart that I didn’t even know existed. I am blessed beyond belief to be her “papa” and I look forward to watching her grow into the little girl God made her to be.

Missing the Point 01: Discipleship

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discipleshipThis post has been republished by the Exponential Network
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Over the past couple of years discipleship has become all the rage within the Christian, pastoral realm. Everywhere you look pastors are talking about exciting new programs being released, books being published, conferences are being themed around discipleship as a new initiative that will enliven the body of Christ, and pastors are reintroducing the importance of discipleship through sermons and series. Have we really rediscovered the missing piece of the Great Commission? (“Therefore, go and make disciples…”) Are we finally beginning to understand that “evangelism” is really about making disciples?

Not to burst your bubble, but no.
At least not yet.

This emphasis around discipleship and disciple-making still has one fatal flaw: It is still about dispensing information as the means of transformation.

Over the years we have done a really good job of perfecting discipleship as a streamlined, packaged content system. We have retread old systems of discipleship into shiny new packages with slick new logos. But this slick delivery system still doesn’t speak to the whole of human existence. It focuses solely on the intellect, about dispensing information as a means of transformation. You see, we have continually bought into the Enlightenment principle that if you can change someone’s mind you can change someone’s life. Time and again this has proven to be a faulty principle that misses the point.

Is it any wonder we’re not seeing more radical transformation occurring in the lives of people?

Discipleship cannot discipleship unless the whole of the human self is involved, unless it takes into account the mind, the heart, the soul, and the body: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Now, I’m sure some would say, “Well this is an unfair argument. You’re simplifying what we do with discipleship.” And sure, there is an argument to be made there because there are all sorts of ways outside the Sunday expression that contribute to discipleship. But are they “creating” the types of disciples you expect? Are your programs focused in on changing people’s minds leading to a high success rate of transformation?

I’m going to guess “no” based upon nation-wide church statistics.

So what’s the answer?
In my experiences and through many conversations, the common consensus is no greater transformation of the disciple occurs than in those who return home from a short-term missions trip. Now, while it is completely impractical and perhaps not very beneficial to send hundreds of people each year from your congregation on short-term missions trips, it does say something about the total immersion into discipleship that occurs. It is an active engagement of the mind, the heart, the body, the soul. Sure, some of the transformation wears off once the person returns home and some time has elapsed, but is there not something important to take away from this experience?

The core of a short-term missions experience from a discipleship standpoint is that of the active-reflective environment in which the person is immersed. We have become really good at creating environments where one or the other are present–action without reflection or reflection without action. Active-reflective discipleship is the key to unlocking not only discipleship, but the true heart of missional discipleship: a discipleship that takes an active role in the Missio Dei (Mission of God).

Active-reflective discipleship resides outside the confines of what we already know about “how to do church”. It will require a great deal of imagination and creativity that will push us outside of our contexts and beyond the limits of our comfortability. However, it will create the types of disciples we long for, the types of disciples the church needs, and the types of disciples Jesus expected.

The question is how do we create these active-reflective environments?
It all depends on your context. Not your church context, but your city context. What are ways in which you can engage with your city, with the place you live, with your neighbors, co-workers, or strangers? Again, this requires creativity and imagination, not a retread of old systems packaged in shiny new boxes. I wonder, if you had a “Research and Development” wing in your church, what kinds of active-reflective discipleship environments would you experiment with creating?

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Be Yourself.

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Be Yourself

This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.
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Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said,
“In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’
They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”
– Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim

Who do you think you are?
I mean that as a serious question: Who do you think you are?
At the very core of your being who is it that God has uniquely created you to be?

Each and every one of us has an identity, a unique being that rests deep within our core waiting to emerge. Too often however, instead of listening to the gift of our true identity we spend our lives trying on the identities of others. Like a pile of clothes in the fitting room we see the characteristics or mannerisms of others and we put them on. We become mere imitations rather than living into our true selves. Your True Self, according to Richard Rohr, is who you objectively are from the very beginning of your life. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity.

I spent a good portion of time as a church planter engaged in a hard battle with my identity. I listened intently to people who tried to mold me into who it was they wanted me to be, who they needed me to be, who they thought I was supposed to be. I imbibed the criticisms of others when it struck against my True Self. I recoiled from my True Self turning towards the encouragment I received when I fitted myself with a new False Identity. I rejected my passions and exchanged them for the passions of others. I rejected my interests and exchanged them for the interests of others. I rejected my voice and exchanged it for the muddled voice of others. I had become an enigma.

You see, you cannot be an authentic person when you continually try on the identities of others. Trying to live into someone else’s identity will inevitably fail. It will do great damage to your church and it will do great damage to your soul. As church planters, it is easy to see other pastors and church planters we admire and begin incorporating the best of them into our selves. We drink deeply from their identity and slip into theirs trying it on for size. But it doesn’t work. It never provides us the fulfillment or the acceptance we’re so desperately looking for. Why?

Because,
You are not Rob Bell.
You are not Jon Tyson.
You are not Erwin McManus.
You are not ______________.

You must be yourself. You must be the person that God has created you to be. You must be “Zusya”. Which means you have to drink deeply from the well of God, for our True Self comes from God.

You must be yourself because here’s the thing: We need you. We need the real you, the true, authentic you. We don’t need more imitations in the church. We need your unique giftings and personality, the combination of your passions and your interests, your true voice.

It is a process. It takes time to listen to your voice as it calls out from within your being.
But it is worth it.

Parker Palmer writes in his book Let Your Life Speak:
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought [or think we ought] to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service to the world.”

Let us live more and more into the person God has created us to be.

Immigration Reform is a Family Values Issue and a Moral Imperative

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Immigration Reform

This post was originally written for and featured as a guest commentary in the Illinois Times.
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Every single day hundreds of families are needlessly torn apart through a broken and inhumane deportation system badly in need of reform. Last year alone over 368,000 people were deported and by the end of 2014, over 2 million will have been deported during the Obama administration.

Two million.

This is a startling number, a number that represents sons pulled away from their fathers, daughters torn from the arms of their mothers, husbands ripped from the arms of their wives. No matter where you stand on the issue of immigration one thing has become very clear: Immigration Reform is a family values issue and it must be fixed now.

On April 29th more than 250 evangelical pastors from 25 states descended upon Washington DC to advocate for sensible immigration reform with our elected representatives. We shared stories from our congregations of families torn a part, and of children left in limbo demonstrating the effects of a broken immigration system that destroys the fabric of our nation. We spoke of the need to maintain respect for the rule of law, meaning there can be no blanket amnesty or guarantee of citizenship and those who entered the country illegally should admit their wrongdoing, pay fines and back taxes, submit to background checks, and demonstrate their ability to support themselves. Undocumented immigrants who desire citizenship should take their place in line behind those who have begun that process; meaning there should be no special pathway for those who entered the country illegally.

The Evangelical Immigration Table is a consortium of evangelical pastors from around the country who have banded together around these sensible solutions we believe are not only necessary but possible to achieve right now, if Congress will act.

Immigration reform elicits a great deal of passion on both sides of the aisle, but as a Christian, it is imperative to remember that every person, documented or undocumented is created in the Image of God and precious in his sight. You and I may be Americans, but the Church transcends boundaries and borders. For us, “there is one Body, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Though we may be American or Mexican, Syrian or Italian, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. It is time for us to start seeing our brothers and sisters, to fight for our brothers and sisters, to speak up and speak out for our brothers and sisters who have no voice.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We are caught in a great moral crisis that seeks to destroy the sacred bonds of families, a dilemma that tears at the very fabric of our nation. This is a crisis that as Christians we must stand with our brothers and sisters and let our voices be heard. For the very words of Scripture say,

“The Lord your God… defends the cause of the fatherless and widows, and He loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

Scripture is not silent, it bursts with commands for us to love the immigrant, to care for the immigrant, to speak on behalf of the immigrant, documented or not. And where Scripture speaks, so should we. It is not only time for the Church to speak loudly, but it is time for Congress to take action today because everyday we wait, more and more families are torn apart by this inhumane and archaic system.

Currently » 06

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currently
Reading | As a Ph.D. student I read an awful lot now. And so it’s really difficult to pinpoint one book that I’m currently reading at the moment. You can check out what I’ve been reading on Goodreads if you’re really curious. There are, however two books I read a few weeks ago for a class that I absolutely loved and would recommend: Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ and Manfred Steger’s Globalization: A Very Short Introduction. These books paint an interesting picture of the challenge of globalization in culture at large, and when paired together the Church as a whole.

Loving | I cannot get enough of Volcano Choir’s latest album Repave. Seriously. It’s good. Just check it out on Spotify. A Bonus listen that I’ve been loving the past couple of days is Hillsong United’s Remix Project called The White Album.

Looking Forward To | VACATION! I’m looking forward to a week of vacation along the Gulf Coast, away from the frigid temperatures that has been a tough winter. I’m also looking forward to spending a couple of days in New Orleans with Tracy to celebrate our 12th anniversary. After planting a church in which I did a horrible job of caring for myself in a proper rhythm of Sabbath, I am learning how to step away and trust that God is ultimately in control. I once heard it said that Sabbath time is a revolutionary challenge to the violence of overwork. Or as Chris Hedges put it in his book Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, “When we ignore the Sabbath we destroy that which we should be working to achieve.” May this vacation be a stark and solid reminder of that for me and my family.

Challenged By | As a husband, a dad to a 20-month little girl, pastor, a full-time Ph.D. student, and a man who pursues perhaps too many interests, I am challenged with finding ways to balance everything well. I find there are weeks when I’m successful in one area and fall short in another. I am thankful for the grace I receive when I fall short and at the same time I am challenged by that grace. It is the grace I receive that pushes me to find a greater balance in life.

Twelve Years Ago…

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twelve years ago

Twelve years ago she walked down the aisle. I cried.
Twelve years ago she said, ‘I do.’ I cried.
Twelve years ago tornado sirens rang out in the middle of our wedding ceremony…

I can’t believe we’ve been married for twelve years. I always thought that those people who had been married for a decade or more were old people… and now… here we are… we’re those people. (What happens when we hit 20 or 30 or heaven forbid 50 years?!)

It’s hard to believe it’s been this long but at the same time we’ve lived a lot of life together these past twelve years. Four cross-country moves, pastoring in six different churches from California to Chicago to Central Illinois, heartache and pain, death threats and burnout, side-splitting laughter and smiles that last so long they hurt your cheeks–and you forget what you were even talking about in the first place–long conversations that last deep into the night, sharing our dreams, our hopes, our desires for what it is that God has for us in this life together.

It’s funny, because all of this, this life that we’ve built together, strangely resembles our wedding day. Like when the tornado sirens went off and the two of us looked at Neal wondering what on earth we were going to do? Was he going to keep going? Was he going to stop and direct everyone to take cover? Were we going to finish this thing in the basement? Instead, he pressed on with a steadfast determination as if to say, “Nothing, absolutely nothing will come between you two… certainly not some siren raging on a few hundred yards away!” He set a tone that day in our ceremony, a tone that I think we’ve followed every day since. In the midst of whatever surrounds us, in the midst of whatever looks to consume us or overtake us, nothing, absolutely nothing will come between us.

As Uncle Bob closed out the ceremony he gave us this charge from Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This has been our passage of grace for twelve years, and the grace of God really has been the center of our marriage hasn’t it? I like how Buechner puts it, “The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.'”

I guess I’d never really thought much about how our wedding day has resembled our life together until just recently. And I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I knew then what I know now about everything we’ve faced together, I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t want another person by my side to walk through the perils and joys this life has to offer. Here’s to another 12 years and beyond, if we’re so lucky… Happy anniversary my little pimento loaf.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Fundraising Partners are more than bags of money

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Church Planting
This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.
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One of the greatest fears of the church planter is running out of money before the new church is self-sufficient. This is especially true for the urban church planter. When I started the journey towards church planting I consistently found myself up against the suburban church planting model which allows for the new church to be completely self-sufficient in 3 years, including the 6 month ramp-up period for the church planter to move into the community and launch a new church. The realities of the city are much different than that of a suburban community, in fact I was told on a couple of occasions from other urban planters that it would take at least 5 years before you could become a self-sufficient church. Although they were well meaning, this only helped to stress me out making the ticking financial clock sound louder and louder with each passing month. (If you’re thinking about urban planting you will definitely need more than 3 years to become self-sufficient… unless through a miraculous act of God the community that is assembled are already tremendously generous!)

The fear of dwindling money can serve to create a scarcity mentality making you see your fundraising partners solely as bags of money. When I started IKON, I had 22 different churches partnering with me financially to make this possible. Twenty-two different churches from all across the country banded together behind the vision of IKON and generously supported nothing more than a dream. Now that’s a pretty remarkable collection of churches and by no means the norm, however it created several challenges for me that I was unprepared for.

Some things I realized:

  1. Churches want a return on their investment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they expect hundreds of baptisms/conversions in the span of a few months. (Although this may very well be a metric they’re hoping for–don’t leave this unspoken.) Usually what churches are looking for is connectivity. They’re looking for a relationship that goes beyond sending money every month/quarter/year. They want their connection with your church plant to be something that helps their own people grow by exposing them to something new/different. This means they will more than likely want to send teams of people your way to help out in some way… a short-term missions trip of sorts.

    I did a horrible job with this. In all honesty, I saw this as more of a burden than anything positive. I consistently viewed these offers of help as taking away opportunities for growth from the people of IKON. So I did everything I could to steer clear of the asks and instead of finding a win, separated IKON from opportunity.

    Here’s the reality that I should have strived for. I should have seen this as a wonderful opportunity for the people of IKON to mingle and interact with other like-minded Christians from around the country. I should have seen this as an opportunity for these churches to help me ingrain the DNA of service I so desperately wanted for IKON. One missions trip could have ingrained more into the life of IKON than a series of sermons on the topic. Why? Because it would have been flesh and blood examples right in front of their eyes. This was a huge missed opportunity on my part.

    What I needed was a plan, and that’s exactly what I lacked. If you’re a church planter, you need a plan for short-term missions trips coming to you. If you’re an organization, you need to help the church planter develop a plan. If you’re a supporting church you need to ask the church planter what their plan is. Here are three things I’d recommend be a part of your plan:

    • Make your intentions to the missions team known: I want you to exemplify service to this church. You are here not only to serve us but be examples for us to look to.
    • Create opportunities for your people to serve alongside the missions team. Don’t simply let the missions team serve and then interact relationally with your people in the evening. There needs to be co-serving and co-mingling.
    • Make sure that you have created a missions trip template. What will all missions trips look like? You can create options for the teams to choose from, but you need to make sure that you’re not planning every trip that comes in. Bonus point: Develop relationships with organizations in the city that your people are serving in. When missions teams come to the city, have them set up a time to serve that organization on your behalf. This will save you time and increase your relationship with local organizations.
    • Have someone from your church lead the missions team on a tour of the city before they serve the city or your church. This will give them a great deal of context. (What better way to develop passion for the city in a member of your own community than to have the share about the city!)

    There are certainly other criteria to add into this list, but at least this gives you a starting point.

    Perhaps a question for you to ask yourself: If you wouldn’t want the DNA of the particular church to be a part of your own church community, then do you really want them to be financial partners with you? If you don’t want the people of a particular church to interact with your own church community, then do you really want the to be financial partners with you? These questions may help you in locating the right partners…

  2. Churches want regular communication. This should be a “duh” statement. I would say that I did a decent job with this at first but as the rigors of the church came into play it became increasingly difficult to stay on top of. In fact, it simply became just another “thing” on my to-do list. I’d recommend passing this off to someone from your church to do well. Remember that churches want to share with their people exciting stories of what God is doing in other parts of the country. They are trying to expand their congregations outlook beyond their own local community.
  3. Churches want what’s best for you. If you’re partnering with the right churches, those that share the same DNA as you, then you can rest assured that they want what’s best for you. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help where you’re struggling. Partnering churches want to be more than bags of money, they want to be a resource for you. I wish I would have realized this and known what to ask for when we were struggling with various things. Unfortunately I realized this a bit too late. It was in our last year that I asked one of our partner churches to help us clarify and better communicate our core values. It was a tremendous experience and a wonderful help to us, unfortunately I waited a little too long.

    Your partner churches are established churches that are doing some things right, highlight for yourself what it is that you think they are doing really well and ask them to help you when the time is right. Do you have partner churches that have a tremendous volunteer culture? Then ask them to help you develop that. Do you have partner churches that are knocking it out of the park when it comes to evangelism or arts or music or preaching or discipleship? Then ask them to help you develop this within your own community. This can happen in a variety of ways. Don’t think you have it all figured out because you’re a church planter… you need help and a lot of it. Partner churches can be the greatest resource you have at your disposal. Don’t leave it unused on the side of the road.

  4. Fundraising partners are more than bags of money. They are valuable relationships that can help you in myriad ways. Expand your vision, expand your horizons, expand your understanding of partnership and the scarcity mentality you’re wrestling with will soon be replaced with an vision of abundance because you’ll have more than you ever thought possible.