The Send Network Church Planting Blog

3 Keys to catalytic movement in the first 3 Years of church planting: Part 2 Resiliency

November 7, 2017 by Jacob Dahl

There’s a reason why church planting training is often called “bootcamp.” Much like young cadets preparing for battle, men and women across churches and denominations are bracing for impact on the mission field. One of the common factors in every church plant is getting metaphorically punched in the face (but also quite literally for some friends we have who recently planted a church in downtown Portland). Our friend Brian Frye, national collegiate strategist at NAMB, often quotes Moneyball in reference to pioneering new movements: “The first one through the wall gets their nose bloody.”

Church plants that thrive and go the distance are led by teams of people who are able to take the punches and pick themselves up off the ground over and over, year after year. Theological training is integral, but resilience is also vital. Communication skills, funding and buildings are all helpful tools in the belt of a church planter, but without resilience, you won’t make it beyond the first few years.

No one modeled the “beaten but not broken” resiliency required of church planters better than the Apostle Paul. This brother endured lashings, beatings, stonings, and mockings. Nonbelievers degraded him and believers deserted him. He spent three decades on the run from the authorities. Loneliness and anxiety were often more commonplace than his next meal. Yet through it all, Paul still writes with battered hands, “we do not lose heart.”

Research has shown that grit is more important than IQ or talent when it comes to success in school and business, and the case could be made for church planting as well. Psychologist Angela Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” More than being mentally tough in the moment, grit embraces challenges over the long haul, never quitting until the prize is achieved—even if it takes years longer than anticipated.

As a church planter, not only is it crucial to embrace a gritty life personally, you need to add people to your core team who also share the same work ethic and inner drive.

Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, talks about how the idea of grit was central to building a championship team and program. When you build a team full of gritty people, what happens is that you create an “iron sharpening iron” context. When one player works harder it pushes the guy across the line to work harder. Collective grit becomes crucial to the growth of the team.

Carroll says,

It seems to me that we can really find ways to instill a mechanism of resilience by training people that they have the abilities that allow them to maintain hope. It’s about hope. The reason you bounce back is because you know you have a chance. You believe, or you’ve been connected to a bunch of people that believe, so you go along with them. There’s a hope, an undying sense of belief that, "Of course we can come back, of course we can overcome."

In the early days of church planting, you are having to “overcome” nearly every day. Heartbreak and criticism abound. People bail on you. Venues fall through. There’s never enough money. Everyone wants to quit. The pressure begins to build.

The key as a team is to collectively fix your eyes on true north and never look back—to set your faces like flint and let nothing sway you. If you don’t have a fire in your bones, the harshness of church planting will eventually wear you down into the dust. For your ship to reach the shore of victory, you must stock the hull with theological and gritty ballast, raise the sails of passion and zeal for the lost, and let the wind of the Holy Spirit billow you to kingdom impact.

Embracing a life of resiliency and grit on the missional frontier may mean “bearing on your body the marks of Jesus” like Paul, but that sacrifice paves the way and makes inroads for the gospel to continually transform new lives for many years to come.

Diagnostic questions:

Where are the places in the New Testament that you see grit on display by pastors or church planters?

What does it look like to “not lose heart” and hold onto hope in your current planting context?

What kind of intentional processes and mechanisms if introduced would build grit into your team?

Do you have an “undying sense of belief” that Jesus will build his church in your context?

Additional resource: Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale

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