By Dan Hyun
Having started and pastored a church for over ten years now, God has blessed me in allowing me learn many valuable lessons about ministry and leadership. Though I’ve been learning these convictions in the context of planting a church, these lessons still guide me as I lead our church into the next decade.
Here are three of them:
Anchor your values
Church planters need to be flexible. A common challenge I notice in those who struggle in their leadership is the inability to change. Change is necessary to appropriately contextualize our ministries to our communities.
It’s like pragmatism is often considered a dirty word in many ministry circles. But I don’t think this needs to be the case. As scriptural principles guide, I believe we have considerable freedom to adapt how we approach ministry.
However, even as I affirm the need for pastors to be flexible and adapt, in the end, you also need to recognize and express what values are of primary importance to you and your church. What values are worth sacrificing for, even at the expense of other good things?
For example, if ministering to the least of these is a primary value in the church, a pastor should recognize how even other good ministry expressions could make that difficult to accomplish. Some church growth principles that may effectively attract more affluent people to the church may also inadvertently send a message that the more financially struggling among us are not as welcome at this church.
Too often, we make decisions that ultimately betray who we are. Sometimes this is done out of fear of failure or disappointing other people. But just like a church planter needs to know what’s of utmost importance to the new church and have the strength of conviction to not deviate from those principles, established pastors must maintain a clear grasp of their church’s values.
Commit to be with other pastors
When I first started our church, I didn’t have much desire to spend time with other pastors. With the expectations to start the church and the accompanying demands on my time and schedule, relationships with other pastors and churches were an acceptable sacrifice in my mind. However, through the experience and challenges of planting the church, God has shown me the folly of my ways.
Church planting can be extremely isolating, and it’s essential to gather with other pastors and church planters. It also instills a larger Kingdom perspective and guards against competitiveness as you get to know, love, and honor other pastors.
When I make time to be with others, I always learn things about God, ministry, and myself that I’d fail to grasp in my own limited perspective. God frees me from my self-centered tendencies as I learn about the challenges other pastors face and have the opportunity to pray for them. God teaches me about biblical gratitude as I celebrate successes other pastors are experiencing even if I’m not.
The reality is not every person is meant to be at our church, and it’s helpful to have other pastors I know and trust to recommend people to if our church may not be the best fit for them.
Being with other pastors is God’s mercy to me when I’m tempted to place the goals of my kingdom above His Kingdom. I’m now strongly convinced friendship with other pastors isn’t only a nice idea but is critical to my ability to minister in my own context. It’s a lesson I learned as a planter that’s still just as important to me today.
Persevere in hope
The norm for most church planters is a lot of failures. When the vision is grand and expectations are high, the reality of running into the brick wall of seeming failure can be a painful journey to walk in.
With that reality, church planters need to embody the truth that making disciples requires a long-term vision which entails changing the scorecard for success. Too often, we give up when God has been preparing us in hard times to do something more.
There are some hard things in which we labor that will ultimately produce tangible fruit and the struggle is part of that growing process. Other times, the challenging work may not even lead to much tangible fruit we can see, but instead results in a deepening of our character. In all, the things we label failure are things God wants to accomplish in and through us to deepen our affections for Him.
Church planters sometimes have the notion their current planting ministry is the hardest thing they’ll ever have to do in ministry. Though there is some truth that planting involves unique struggles others will not experience, things don’t necessarily get easier as churches get more established. Though the challenges may look different, they will always be there and sometimes will be even greater.
In those times, the perseverance required to press on in planting a church is the same perseverance that will be needed to continue to be faithful in pastoring God’s people in a church. It’s the hope we cling to in 1 Corinthians 15:58 to know that in the Lord our labor is not in vain.
Dan is the husband to Judie, father of two precious girls, and lead pastor of The Village Church in Baltimore, Maryland.