Isolation and burnout a few years after planting a church are common complaints of church planters. The adrenaline of the launch phase has subsided and the first year of “flying by the seat of your pants” is a distant memory. Now you’re exhausted, disillusioned, and wondering what went wrong. This wasn’t the way it was meant to be. How did it come to this?
Every situation is different. There are, of course, numerous reasons why pastors run into burnout. In many of the stories from this study, struggling planters commented on their lack of patience at the beginning. They said if they could rewind, they’d be more honest earlier on about their weaknesses and blind spots.
They’d build stronger core teams that would complement their giftings—even if that meant they couldn’t plant as quickly as they wanted. Strategically pressing pause for a while at the beginning, even if frustrating, can save more frustration and heartache down the line.
It’s Not All About You
This got me thinking about why our planting models often seem to be more focused on an individual, or perhaps a small leadership team, and less about a wider group. Why is it so hard for planters to admit their need for help from others and slow down to build a stronger core?
In slowing down to build a core team, a planter must acknowledge he’s merely one part of planting a healthy church. Ultimately, the church is not ours, and it’s not about us—it’s Christ’s church, and it’s for his glory. We all confess that theological truth, but patiently building a strong core team invites us to act upon it. Building a core team takes honesty and vulnerability, investment and patience, and the relinquishment of power. Church planters need to be honest from the start about their struggles, inadequacies, and where they need help from others. It’s okay to do that. It’s good to do that. Click To Tweet
Honesty and Vulnerability
We can have the impression that planters who succeed and endure are the alphas, the omnicompetent, the ones on whom the sun always shines. They’re the kind of people you envied through school, the people everyone looked up to and wanted to be like and around. We can be tempted to subtly project that image to others, especially as we’re trying to gather a core group to follow us on this exciting adventure.
Yet, if we’re shaping a group who will not simply follow but serve, pour themselves out, and take ownership of the plant, church planters need to be honest from the start about their struggles, inadequacies, and where they need help from others. It’s okay to do that. It’s good to do that.
The planter’s honesty and vulnerability from the get-go help people see that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd whom they can trust, rather than slightly implying that we are. It also models the need to be a real team. To hide our vulnerability and need may mean we end up burned out and broken.The planter’s honesty and vulnerability from the get-go help people see that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd whom they can trust, rather than slightly implying that we are. Click To Tweet
Investment and Patience
The other challenge of pulling together a core team might mean we’re not able to launch as quickly as we want. Rather than hitting the launch deadline, we may choose to deliberately delay—to pour into and invest in a wider group, exploring the gifts God has entrusted to the plant and equipping and enabling them with the theology and skills needed for long-term service.
In training and pouring into the launch team, you may even find that some folks won’t end up coming. They grasp the vision more clearly and realize it’s not for them. That’s okay, too. It’s likely you’ve saved everyone future pain. Investment and patience now will be worth it in the long run.
Relinquishment of Power
As I understand leadership from the Scriptures, one key phrase that repeats (and challenges) is the idea of not “lording it over” those we lead (e.g., Mark 10:42, 1 Pet. 5:3). Worldly leadership is so easily and often about always getting your way—controlling and micro-managing a project or people. But in the Scriptures, the model of leadership is founded upon loving service for the glory of God. The wise pastor knows his sheep well and, following in the footsteps of Jesus, pours himself out for the sheep.To prayerfully release, pour into, and trust others feels risky. But it’s not our church, it’s the Lord’s. Click To Tweet
Relinquishing power may also mean raising up others who aren’t simply clones of us but might have different ideas, perspectives, or ways of doing things. Rather than having everything exactly as we might want, how about not simply delegating tasks but delegating authority? That can be painful, especially because in the early days, we can wrestle with our sense of self-worth and identity being tied up in the plant’s success. To prayerfully release, pour into, and trust others feels risky. But it’s not our church, it’s the Lord’s.
The earlier you can remove yourself from the center of the project and raise up and promote others, the better. How about slowing things down, pouring into the core team, and learning to be patient? May the Lord build solid core teams who are eager and equipped to plant gospel-proclaiming, healthy churches that will last and reproduce.