In 1990, our family started the process of planting a church in Utah. Over the next 10 years, we saw the church grow from just the four of us to over 600 attending our Easter Celebration Service. During the 90’s, we also played a role in starting five other churches and organizing several major interdenominational outreaches that resulted in thousands of Utahans deciding to follow Jesus. No matter how you measure success, that’s a pretty good story. And it’s true. But it’s not the whole story.
Here’s the rest of the story. Six months into our planting experience, I was ready to give up. We had done everything we knew to get the church off the ground. Our efforts included prayer, knocking on doors, phone calling campaigns, personal visitation, building relationships with our neighbors as well as countless hours of careful preparation and planning for every service, meeting and small group session. Yet, in spite of our best efforts, it seemed that we were doomed to fail. Financially, we were barely making it. Emotionally, we were exhausted. But, perhaps worst of all, there seemed to be no hope that anything would get better.
I’ll never forget the dark night in February, 1991, when only six people showed up for our main weekly meeting. You read that right. Six. Four of them were my family. I felt like a complete failure. After six months of giving it our best, it appeared that our best wasn’t good enough. It seemed wrong to ask our supporters to continue to support an effort that was obviously going nowhere, fast. It seemed like the only “right thing” to do was to stop pretending to be a church planter and go find a job I could actually do.
The Holy Spirit interrupted my pity party and in His still, small voice asked me a powerful question, “If I wanted you to pastor six people for the rest of your life, would you do it?” I knew the correct answer was, “Yes.” But I could not imagine why God would want to “waste” my life being a pastor for only six people. Then the Spirit dug deeper into my heart. Holding up His divine mirror, He forced me to see the issue that was at the root of my lack of ministry effectiveness. I was actually more concerned with what people thought about me than I was about what God thought about me. Ouch! Then it dawned on me; planting a church is just as much about my personal discipleship as it is about the discipleship of those whom God sent to me to disciple.
I repented of my self-centered attitude and asked God to give me the strength and wisdom to make solid disciples of the six people in my sphere of influence. As I intentionally aligned my heart with attitudes and actions that pleased God, the church began to move in the right direction. Over the next nine years, we had the privilege of seeing hundreds of people become followers of Christ. I’m so glad I didn’t quit when I felt like that was my best option.
Here’s my point. Every person planting a church will hit a wall at some point. Believe me; I talk to successful planters all the time. Almost without exception, they can point to a time when they considered quitting. And, almost without exception, when they paused and listened to the still, small voice, the underlying cause of their desire to leave was some change they needed to make to stay obedient to God—a proactive step in their own personal discipleship.
So, before you decide that quitting is your best option, pause and listen to the still, small voice. He loves you enough to use the pressures and faith building experiences of church planting to mold and shape you into His likeness. Be sure you don’t prematurely step out of His plan to refine you and miss out on the rest of the story.