Mistakes in church planting: Andy Metzger

Anyone who has ever planted a church can tell you that one of the most accurate ways to describe the feeling you most frequently have toward this entire church planting experience is fragile. From the moment you launch—and even throughout those first few years—everything feels so incredibly delicate! It’s as if you’re wearing a blindfold and walking thru a minefield…and you’re merely one bad decision or mistake away from blowing this entire thing up. It could be one bad sermon, one poor staff decision, one church partnership gone awry—all of it feels fragile!

Now, we all know (in theory) that mistakes are a natural part of growth. That they will happen and, likely, they’re not the end of the world. But it’s amazing how often we forget that God delights in using our weaknesses—yes, even our least strategic decisions or mistakes along the way—to demonstrate His power. So we must begin a conversation on mistakes in church planting with the recognition that perfection is not our goal—it never has been—but chasing after the Perfect One is.

That being said, here are three common mistakes I hope you’ll avoid during your own journey of planting God’s church.

1. Using people instead of loving them
I once met a pastor who led a breakout on using volunteers within your church plant. His church was growing and seemed to be successful, so I was eager to learn. But I soon realized he seemed to have a very different perspective on people than what I was accustomed to. He (literally) bragged about how he drives his volunteers into the ground and squeezes every last ounce of service out of them before they burn out…and then he just replaces them. To make it worse, for those volunteers who haven’t yet surrendered…he generously supplies them with a $5 gift card each year as appreciation.

Now here’s the thing: those aren’t volunteers—they’re not even people!—they are cogs in the machine. They’ve become disposable objects, diminished to the status of a tool to be used rather than a person to be loved. That’s simply using people for your personal gain. So if you find yourself consistently asking “How much can we get out of them? How much can we get them to do?” or declaring “They’ll be fine. It’s good for them.” without any consideration for the real welfare of your people, your volunteer philosophy needs a complete transformation.

Yes, you have a lot on your plate. Yes, volunteers are crucial to the ministry. Yes, you can ask a lot from them…but it must always come from a posture of love and gratitude before organizational efficiency. As Brian Howard has said, “It takes less effort to take care of the volunteers that you already have than it does to recruit new volunteers.”

So, two simple pieces of advice here:

  • Don’t use volunteers simply to fill a need. 
Every area of ministry has needs and needs volunteers, but if you’re only trying to meet the needs with these people, you’ll either burn out or miss out. For example, if a person isn’t passionate about serving in your Kids Ministry (i.e. maybe he/she works with kids around the clock throughout the week, and he/she looks forward to a day of rest from that), placing them in this area of ministry will only perpetually frustrate them (leading to burn out)…or prevent them from being able to exercise other gifts that could really build up the body (miss out). Have people serve where they’re passionate—or at least generally excited—about serving, and the most important needs tend to be taken care of.
  • Thank them endlessly and creatively. Personally speaking, a $5 gift card for appreciation, given only once a year, is a pretty pathetic way to say thank you. (I’d almost rather not be given anything at all!) A very practical way of loving your people, and not just using them, is to endlessly and creatively thank them. Make it personal, make it thoughtful, and do it often. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a ton of money. I tend to look at it like a good date with my wife: usually the best ones don’t cost the most…they just require thoughtfulness and creativity.

2. Giving your time to the wrong things
Some know it as the Eisenhower Matrix, others remember it from Stephen Covey’s book…but one major mistake most church planters find themselves making regularly is being unable to discern the difference between that which is urgent and that which is important.

At the heart of the urgent-important matrix are these two questions:

Is this task important?

Is this task urgent?

Knowing the difference between these two determines how you prioritize sermon prep vs. email, staff meeting vs. hospital visit, family time vs. member meeting, etc. We’re notoriously bad at prioritizing the wrong thing, simply because it feels more urgent, even if it’s not terribly importantAlways remember that saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something (or someone) elseand we want to be sure we’re prioritizing people and the mission, not the endless tasks that will do fine to wait.

3. Loving the wrong things
Finally, there are many things worth celebrating during the church planting journey. You gather a core team, you find a meeting space, you pull off a preview service or public launch—and all of these things are certainly worth celebrating—but in the end, it’s vitally important for both you and your people to ensure that at the center of all that has been constructed is a deep, abiding, passionate love for Jesus Christ.

Let’s be honest: the majority of church planters are highly driven, Type-A, recklessly optimistic leaders…and we’re capable of doing quite a bit in our own strength…which certainly has its benefits at times. Sadly, though, it’s amazing how easy it can be to plant a church and gather a crowd and teach the Bible and baptize unbelievers and disciple others without actually loving Christ and believing the gospel yourself…at least for awhile. And then it gets ugly.

My encouragement to you in this journey: continually fight to deeply love Jesus, deeply believe his gospel, and deeply fight for his people more than the success (or even the failure) of your church plant…and if you do, the mistakes you make along the way will fade into a mere memory. But the impact you make for the cause of Christ will continue into eternity.

As the British missionary C.T. Studd wrote:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Published May 2, 2017