Detoxing from Control Issues Zach Nielsen By Zach Nielsen January 25, 2017
Acts 29 A diverse, global family of church-planting churches

I Have Control Issues

Experiences in life quickly bring this truth to the surface. Flying in airplanes, massive, summer thunderstorms, and the unpredictable nature of parenting reveal that I have far less control than I would like to think.

I have control issues. Most leaders do, especially church planters.

I have control issues. Most leaders do, especially church planters.

Church planting breeds control freaks. We carefully control the planning. Vision documents. Core team values. Missional strategy. Discipleship pathways. On and on. A church planter’s mind is often restless with structures that are necessary for the birth of a new church. These are the things that we seek to control. And in a sense, we do. Of course, we can’t lie in bed all day and assume that the church will get off the ground; it takes intentionality.

But as much as we are responsible for taking action, we are not in control. This is one of the main battle-grounds in the heart of the church planter. Taking faithful action, yet all the while believing that God is the one who controls the results.

And therein lies another dark temptation for the church planter.


For a variety of reasons, some good and some bad, we want results. And this drive for results can tighten our grip on the steering wheel of our new church.

Who Really Is In Control?

All of our faithful action can subtly lead us to believe that we are in control. If I planned it all and what I planned comes to pass, then didn’t I make it work?

In 2009, we began raising money for our church plant. This was just a year after the financial sky fell for many people all across the nation. My family felt the pinch as well yet we were compelled to sell our house in order to move to Madison, WI to plant a new church.

This was just one of many challenges that we faced in church planting. No money, no people, no location, and no assurance that any of this would work. So we implemented a plan to overcome these challenges. Lots of coffee meetings to raise money. Pursuing rental options for locations. Trying to get the word out that a new church in Madison, WI was coming. Come one, come all!

These were our faithful efforts, our faithful action. But who was in control? We couldn’t make anyone say “yes” when it came to money, location, or critical mass. None of this could be credited to our manufacturing. We had to trust the provision of another.

Clearly, God was and is in control.

Clinging to control is fundamentally at odds with intimacy with God. Without intimacy with God you lose everything.

And church planter, this is a terrifyingly good thing! It certainly feels frightening to lose the battle for control, but if you don’t you might lose your soul! Here is the danger. Clinging to control is fundamentally at odds with intimacy with God. And without intimacy with God you lose everything.

All The Power, None Of The Prayer

Here is what I mean. One of the main dangers (and they are legion: anxiety, anger, pride, impatience, etc.) of believing the myth of your control is that this can quickly lead to prayerlessness. If you are in control, what do you need to pray about? But if you know for certain that nothing is possible without the Lord’s intervention, passionate pleading before the Lord will come quite naturally.

When the early church was threatened by severe persecution did they return to a strategy meeting? Thankfully, no. They turned to prayer.

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God… Acts 4:23-24

Is the faithful action of strategic thinking and planning necessary? Of course! But those of us who lean towards being results-oriented, control-addicts need to make prayer primary and planning secondary.

There can be no absolutes in what I am about to say next, but allow me to give you some advice in which I too need to grow. For every hour in your planning meeting, spend two hours in prayer. Or perhaps just compare time spent praying vs strategizing. Or perhaps make all your strategizing prayerful, that is steeped in prayer. This metric will bless you and all those who follow your leadership. It’s a tangible reminder to yourself and all those who follow you that you truly know you are not in control, but are casting yourself upon the loving control of God.

Promise For Provision

Take heart church planter. You don’t have to be in control because God is.

Take heart church planter. You don’t have to be in control because God is. He loves your church more than you do. His promise for provision is greater than your illusion of control. Writing to the ancient church in Philippi, Paul reminded the gathered body of believers that the Gospel is foundational for releasing our anxious control and trusting in God to provide all we need. Having finished reflecting on how this church had supplied his need as a church planter, he reminds them that they will experience the same.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:19

God will provide because he can! He is able because he is rich! Jesus is rich in glory because he lived a perfect life, died a wrath-bearing death, and rose from the dead! Now through the Spirit, his glory overflows into our hearts and this allows us to beautifully cast ourselves upon him in trusting faith for the blessing of ourselves and our churches.

So, rest Pastor. You don’t have to be in control. God is. You don’t have to manufacture anything. God is working through your working more than you can imagine. You don’t have to fear the future. God is already there and his provision is waiting for you.

Zach Nielsen Zach Nielsen

Zach is a teaching pastor and elder who oversees leadership development and preaching at The Vine Church, Madison, WI. Zach and his amazing wife Kim have four children: Taylor, Autumn, Emery, and Mya. Zach is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and Covenant Theological Seminary.

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