What I Learned as a Church Planter: Focus on the Positive

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Creating something out of nothing is never easy, and that’s part of what makes church planting so difficult. Thankfully there is a plethora of new books, resources, and conferences available to help the church planter navigate the models, strategies, and networks that can help you bring a new church into existence. However, what often times gets left by the wayside is the other side of church planting, equally as difficult and perhaps more disastrous if left unattended: YOU.

Before launching IKON, one of the cultural markers I wanted to create in a new church was a culture of encouragement. The impetus being: encouragement and a positive outlook will propel your church forward with greater momentum. A culture lacking encouragement and a focus on the positive will stall out, focus on the wrong things (major in the minor), and find itself in a hole at best and a tailspin at worst.

I thought that I had learned my lesson. After a prior stint as a lead pastor, I wrote in my journal:

“I wish we would’ve celebrated our wins… instead, every meeting started with the problems and issues we were facing (and they were a multitude). Everyone left these meetings feeling down and out.

The solution, I thought, would be to start every meeting by highlighting the positive. This one simple act would help craft the culture I sought. I relied on this one “trick” to create encouragement and failed to take the next steps required to craft a true culture of encouragement.

Focusing on the positive and crafting a culture of encouragement requires proactivity. Relying on the “trick” at the start of meetings may be a good start, a good way to share with a group stories and conversations everyone may not have been privy to, however, if you (the leader, the pastor) are spearheading the conversation there are unintended consequences that can occur that ultimately short circuit any hopes of crafting a strong culture of encouragement.

  1. You will be viewed as only wanting to hear about the positive. This can (and in my case did) close off a valuable feedback circle. It can alienate you from some of the real needs within the church because you are seen (whether fairly or not) as only wanting to know about the good things that are happening, brushing the challenges and problems aside.
  2. Relying on this “trick” makes it harder to discover other positive stories. When relying on this space, you stop actively pursuing the beautiful stories that are taking place in the church. You expect these stories to “come to you” and forget it is important to be proactive in seeking out the stories of your church community. And when the stories don’t “come to you”, discouragement can quickly overtake you.
  3. The “trick” can put others on the spot, creating a culture of competition or withholding. One of the thoughts that can circle the room in these moment:”My story isn’t as good, so there’s no reason to share it…” Unfortunately this devalues the good, no matter how “small” it may seem. Sometimes, the “small” stories are the great stories! If the “trick” is the only space for sharing stories, then you’re not actually creating a culture of story-telling within your church. And if you’re not creating a culture of story telling, then stories never get heard and fade away. When you come into a space where the “trick” is employed, no one is there to champion your story and share on your behalf (because they never heard it in the first place) leaving you questioning the value of your story.

There are certainly more unintended consequences, but these are three I directly experienced in our church culture.

It is vital that as a leader, you focus in on the positive for your church. We have to celebrate the amazing things that God is up to in our midst. There are many beautiful stories happening all around us, every day, but we must be proactive in discovering them if we truly want to create a culture of encouragement. Meaning, it must be a point of conversation in every interaction with others. Seek out the good that God is doing, don’t expect it to come to you.

At the same time, however, your conversation needs to be balanced. You have to be open to hearing about the needs of the individual and how you, as a pastor, can walk alongside them. A culture of positivity and encouragement is only possible when balanced with genuine interest and care.

I failed at the balancing act and tended more towards the “trick” instead of nurturing a culture. As a result I missed some of the tell-tale signs of impending disaster. I became the guy that only wanted to hear about the positive, not the challenges lurking around the corner. This posture secluded me from what was really happening beneath the surface.

Creating a culture of encouragement is easier said than done. It is a difficult balancing act that must be walked wisely. However, I believe it is one of the most important cultural distinctive’s that must be nurtured for longevity and health in a new church.

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