Five years after being planted, Valley Life Church has given birth to three other churches, which is great, so there is a sense in which I wouldn’t change a thing. Plus, I love this church, so it’s hard to imagine taking any other path. But hindsight always provides lessons I wish I knew five years ago.
1. If you don’t know who is coming, no one is coming.
Maybe your community is just aching for your church to open. Maybe you are just a few Facebook ads and an A-frame away from reaching your city. But for most of us, the only real way to ensure a turnout for an informational meeting, party at the park, or launch Sunday is to make friends and ask them to show up. Signs, mailers, door hangers and digital media have their place, but making friends is more cost effective, more fun and it works.
2. Just look at those shoes.
Shortly after arriving in Phoenix, and before we actually started the church, I met with a seasoned church planter and peppered him with questions. After what were probably too many questions and not a lot of straight answers he abruptly said, “Just do whatever you want. You are North Phoenix, look at those shoes.” I looked down at my shoes and realized that the church that he established was as different from the church I would establish as my loafers were from his Chucks, and as North Phoenix is from Tempe.
3. The skills required to plant your church are the same skills required to lead your family.
Margaret Thatcher said it this way, “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.” If you don’t know where your weaknesses are as the leader of your family, then you haven’t been paying attention. Ask your wife, take note of tensions that often arise at home and give your best effort to creating a healthy family. The things you learn about (communication, problem solving, resourcing, delegating and rallying towards a vision) will directly translate to your church plant.
4. “For now” is a strategy’s best friend.
Church planters are necessarily idealists. We have written, spoken, designed, posted, argued and arm wrestled about the vision for our church plant for months, if not years, before we actually do the work. All that effort makes us very clear on what to say about the church, but knowing what to say is not the same as knowing what to do. When the glorious vision meets gory reality, it can be very difficult to back all that talk. If I could start again, I would add the simple phrase, “for now” to just about everything I said.
5. Proven staff members are over-rated.
When it came to hiring staff members, the major qualification was, “do they love this church?” After interviewing people with all the qualifications and recommendations, it has always boiled down to a passion for our mission to make disciples and plant other churches. Without that, nothing really mattered, and with that, we always seemed to find a place for someone.
6. Distraction wears the mask of opportunity.
Every sponsor church is afraid that their church planter is going to spend workdays in a baseball cap and shorts cleaning out his garage instead of working, but the problem is usually not laziness, it’s distraction. Opportunities to meet with other planters, speak in other churches, become involved in community projects can all be means to making disciples, or not. The most powerful question that I asked myself at the end of each day was, “What did I do to plant Valley Life today?”
Published October 4, 2016